July 30, 2014

Show and Tell is Now in Session

After a few years of having a blog that focused primarily on my illustrations and stories, I came to realize that I could do so much more with a blog than talk about my work. With my knowledge in illustration from my MFA program to my experiences as a professor and teacher, to finally having a couple of books published that I illustrated I said... why not start a blog about writing and illustrating books to share with everyone?

And what better way than having my own "Show and Tell" session every week. I always looked forward to Fridays at school when we could bring something into class to show and talk about with our classmates. It was our one chance each week to either brag or be proud of something we had and just share a little bit about ourselves with each other.

The blog is a little plain looking right now but a logo and some illustrations are in the works to jazz it up a bit in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, here goes the first official post!


Show, Don't Tell??

Wait... I thought we said the blog is going to about Showing AND Telling.

Confusion already... let me explain:

I chose the name "Show and Tell" for the blog so that I can show images and tell you information about children's books. However, the term "Show, Don't Tell" is often used when writing books. It means that an author should write text that helps readers to visualize a story, to experience it through feelings, emotions, actions and senses rather than giving a summation or explanation of what's going on.

Here's an example:

In "A Wrinkle in Time" Madeleine L'Engle could have started the book telling us about Meg and the storm, something like this:

There was a storm outside. The trees were blowing around. The moon was shining. Margaret Murry was scared. She was also bothered by other things.

Zzzzzzz... Oh, sorry. I dozed off. Now let's see how the beginning of the story really goes:

It was a dark and stormy night. 
In her attic bedroom Margaret Murry, wrapped in an old patchwork quilt, sat on the foot of her bed and watched the trees tossing in the frenzied lashing of the wind. Behind the trees clouds scudded frantically across the sky. Every few moments the moon ripped through them, creating wraith-like shadows that raced along the ground. 
The house shook.
Wrapped in her quilt, Meg shook.
She wasn't usually afraid of weather. -- It's not just the weather, she thought. -- It's the weather on top of everything else. On top of me. On top of Meg Murry doing everything wrong.

Talk about showing! You really feel Meg's fear and the intensity of the storm. And that's just the beginning of the story.

When it comes to illustrating, "Show, Don't Tell" is also used. It's important to portray part of the story but in a way that is narrative, that tells a story visually. I often tell my art students that I should be able to know what's going on in your illustration without you having to explain it to me, almost like a wordless/near wordless book (a book illustrated with little or no text). See David Wiesner's "Flotsam" or "Tuesday" or "A Ball for Daisy" by Chris Raschka as incredible examples. Each illustration still allows for some interpretation, so the viewer can still experience the story with their emotions, senses, and feelings.

So what's the big deal about showing and not telling when it comes to writing books for kids? Well, it can make or break a story. It is the difference between an interesting, engaging read versus a boring one. It's like taking a class that has group interactions and hands-on projects versus a three hour lecture in which you just listen to someone talk.

And it can be the difference between someone loving to read and someone hating it.

A Non-Reader's Tale 

Speaking of hating reading... as a child, I hated it. I was the Cliff notes girl. I wanted to watch the movie rather than read the book. For some of my book reports, I used to read the first and last chapter and try to use the book summary on the jacket to figure out what happened. It worked until about fourth grade. (Thanks for putting me on the straight and narrow, Ms. Dreibelbis.)

When I did read, I gravitated toward the same books every time I went to the library - all Don Freeman books like "Corduroy" or "Rainbow of My Own," "B is for Betsy," "It Looked Like Spilt Milk", "The Story of Ferdinand," and "Superfudge" to name a few. A very few.      

They were familiar and comfortable and easier for me to read the second or third time around. My eyes often wandered when I read, thinking about other things I wanted to do instead. It's not that the books weren't interesting - it's just that I didn't have that love for reading. Maybe it was because I was a middle child and my mom didn't read with me as much as she did with my sister. Or maybe it was because I loved to do everything as a kid - write, draw, sew, play instruments, play sports, sing, dance - and I just didn't want to be sitting down in one place doing something.

Thank goodness my son Alonzo is not that way. He's loved reading ever since he was born. I made sure that I would show him books that were funny, colorful, emotional, interesting, exciting. He picked up reading very quickly and developed a love for reading that I don't think will ever diminish. He also loves to write and illustrate his own stories - every week he writes at least one complete book. Hmmm... I wonder where he learned that from.

(Here he is reading "Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus" by Mo Willems at two years of age. Well, sort of... )

It wasn't until I was an adult into my 30's that I found my love for children's books. I started realizing just how much I had missed out on as a kid. How I became a children's book writer and illustrator is a story for another day, but once I discovered my passion I joined The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), I started going to critique groups, and I enrolled in an MFA program in illustration. Lucky for me - and other adults like me - you can continue to read at any age. And you can read whatever books you want. I go to book stores and libraries and spend a lot of time reading children's books of all kinds - board books, picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels. I stare at covers and illustrations. I study the writing and the artistic choices made for the books. I allow myself to get lost in my imagination and dive into the world that the author and illustrator have created for me.
And I'm loving it.  

What's In Store for the Blog

Every week I'll be "showing" and "telling" about writing and illustrating children's books. The posts will vary between:
* book reviews
* author and illustrator interviews or blog posts
* writing and illustrating techniques* news and information about publishing industry
* and any other relevant topics. 
The intention is to make the blog not just for writers and illustrators like me, but also for parents and teachers. I want to encourage them to expose children at a young age to learn how to read and, more importantly, learn to LOVE to read. It can make all the difference in their lives as they grow older. In the words of the immortal Dr. Seuss...
I hope you'll choose to follow the blog, participate by leaving comments, and spread the word so the blog following can grow. The more people who can "show and tell" about this blog, the more things we'll all come to know. And for you writers out there, "The more you read, the more you'll know the less you'll tell the more you'll show!" (Thanks, Dawn Young :)


  1. Oh Angela...I love your blog! This post contained so many books that I currently own or have out of the library (in preparation for Renee LaTulippe's Lyrical Language Lab class which I start on Friday). I'll be happily following you and learning all you have to show and tell. :) :)

    1. That's great Vivian, thank you! Guess we think alike. That class sounds interesting - would love to hear more about it.


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