Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Fountain Pen Design
 Showing Versus Telling 
by Leslie Colin Tribble                   

The word count in picture books represents valuable real estate and can’t be wasted.  Each word has to work together to paint a picture, to pull in the reader, to create characters we love.  With today’s picture books being no more than 500 words, writers have to use each word to its greatest potential.  That’s why it's important to SHOW the reader something, instead of simply TELLING about it.    

If you have another writer critique your manuscripts, you might hear them say, “Oh you really need to change this from showing to telling.”  Seasoned authors understand this concept, but beginning writers might need some help getting a grasp on this idea.

I recently received a joke from a friend and thought it was the perfect example of showing not telling.  It isn’t particularly applicable for children, but it should get the point across:

At the wedding reception, the photographer yelled, 'Would all the married men, please stand next to the one person who has made your life worth living.'
The bartender was almost crushed to death.

When you read this, what kind of mental image did it produce?  You, the reader, didn’t have to be told that all the men rushed to stand next to the bartender.  The last line gave you the information without actually saying it.  That’s showing.

Showing makes us care about the character, the location, the events of the book.  It builds a connection between the reader and the story.  As an author, the last thing you want your readers to think is, “So what?  Why should I care about this?”  

When I was young, I read every book James Oliver Curwood  wrote.    I loved the descriptions of the characters fighting their way across the frozen tundra.  Although it’s been a long time (a very long time!) ago, I still distinctly remember looking up from one book and being astounded to feel the heat of a July summer afternoon after being completely engaged with the frigid cold and blizzard in the story.

Let’s look at some examples of showing not telling concept.  I’ll use some early work of mine which exemplify telling and turn it into showing.

Telling:  Jasper happily chewed his bone.
Showing:  With his tail furiously creating a wind storm, Jasper caught up his bone between his teeth and pranced to his bed.

Although the second sentence uses a lot more words, it gives us a more rich and defined mental image of the action.  Here’s another one:

Telling:  Outside, it was spring.
Showing:  The sun was bright and warm.  Soft breezes kissed the tips of the new green grass.

Erika Wassal had a great guest post recently on Kathy Teman’s website entitled, More Showing, Less Telling.  She suggested asking yourself, “How can I prove this?”  Using the examples above, I could ask, “How can I prove it was spring?”  Or, “How can I prove Jasper was happy?” 

As writers, we have our own mental pictures associated with our stories.  It’s our job to make the reader see those pictures and immerse themselves in our story so they experience it, not just read it.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Kenn Nesbitt, Children's Poet Laureate ~ Part 2 ~ by Patricia Toht

Today I'm welcoming back, KENN NESBITT, poet extraordinaire and current Children's Poet Laureate! (If you missed Part 1 of our interview, scroll back to yesterday's post.)

So pull up a chair, GROG readers. In honor of Kenn's taste buds, today we're enjoying a cup of coffee, along with a slice of toast and Marmite. (Okay, maybe Kenn will enjoy the Marmite - I'll be nibbling around the toast edges...)
Yeast extract on toast, anyone?
PT: What is your process for writing a poem, Kenn?

KN: The hardest part is always finding some quiet time, free from distractions, and sitting down to write. Once I get in that place, I have a folder full of ideas and notes that I have jotted down previously. I sift through my notes until I find an idea that seems like a fun one to work on. Sometimes I may only write a few lines or a part of a poem before moving on to another idea. In this way, it may take anywhere from an hour to several months for me to finish any given poem.

PT: Newbie children’s writers are often discouraged from writing in rhyme. What advice do you have for them?

KN: The reason for this is that meter (poetic rhythm) is an integral part of writing in rhyme. Without solid meter, rhyme is not a pleasurable to read. Moreover, beginning writers may be more likely to use "forced" rhymes. My advice is to go ahead and write in rhyme, but just as a learning experience; not for publication. I recommend picking up a book such as Derek Attridge's Poetic Rhythm: An Introduction to learn how to establish rhythm as well as rhyme. And I suggest doing a little reading about what forced rhymes are and how to avoid them. I have an article about this on that budding children's writers may find useful.

PT: And finally, did you read poetry when you were young? Can you recall a favorite poet or poem from your childhood?

KN: When I was a kid, my father used to recite poems, often to pass the time while driving on family road trips. He had memorized poems by Rudyard Kipling, Robert Service, Ernest Lawrence Thayer, and many others. Listening to these was my first introduction to poetry. My favorites were the nonsense poems, such as "One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night" and "They Dying Fisherman's Song." I never imagined, though, that I would one day write such poems myself. I feel very lucky to be able to introduce children to kind of poetry that I so enjoyed when I was young.

PT: Thank you, Kenn, for your insights into writing and sharing poetry with children! We wish you the best in your continued role as Children's Poet Laureate.

And thank you for joining us again today, GROG readers. I highly recommend that you explore Kenn's website, Poetry 4 Kids. The "News" section, in particular, has scads of helpful articles for poets.  You'll also find a list of Kenn's books and anthologies and written and recorded interviews with other children's poets. Visit the Poetry Foundation website for information about the honor of Children's Poet Laureate and other poetry resources. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Kenn Nesbitt, Children's Poet Laureate ~ Part 1 ~ by Patricia Toht

Look at that armful of poetry books!

If you don't know this fellow, you're missing out! He's a funny and prolific poet, promoter of all things poetry, and our current Children's Poet Laureate -- KENN NESBITT! 

(Pause for applause.)

Come, join me for virtual tea and scones, while Kenn tells us about his role as Poet Laureate, offers hints on helping kids enjoy poetry, and talks Common Core. 

PT: You’re now ten months into your position as Children’s Poet Laureate. How’s it going? What has been your favorite part?

KN: In a way, things aren't much different for me now than they were a year ago. That is, I'm still doing everything I can to promote poetry for children. The biggest difference, and probably my favorite part, is that I have created a new website -- -- to share the work of today's most popular children's poets. Every day of the school year, I post a different poem on the home page for teachers to share with their students. I've been pleased with how well Poetry Minute has been received. 

PT: I love Poetry Minute! I signed up through the website to get daily deliveries of poems on my Facebook page. 

PT: How can we help children learn to love poetry?

KN: I think the best way to help children learn to love poetry is to help them discover what kind of poetry they like best. Not everyone loves all kinds of poems. Some kids will enjoy narrative poems, while others may prefer haiku. For some, free verse will be their favorite, while others will be drawn to humor or wordplay. Once a child discovers that there is a particular type of poetry they enjoy, they will be more likely to want to delve deeper and discover more poetry of the kind they like.

PT: You also have many options on your website, Poetry 4 Kids, for children and adults to explore poetry and play with words. It's a treasure chest of goodies! (And thanks to you, Kenn - I'm completely obsessed with the game, Wordjack.)

PT: Do you think the adoption of Core Curriculum Standards will have a positive or negative effect on the use of poetry in schools?

KN: I couldn't say. I'm not a fan of testing kids on their skills at poetic analysis, as I think this makes reading a chore rather than something one does for the joy of it. On the other hand, given today's educational environment where students are often only taught what they are going to be tested on, I think it's a good thing that poetry is part of the Common Core. Without this, they might have little or no exposure to poetry in school.

PT: Thank you, Kenn! Please come back tomorrow and we'll talk about your process for writing poems and your tips for authors who like to write in rhyme.

I hope you enjoyed your tea and scones, GROG readers. Please join us tomorrow for Part 2!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Graphic Organizers in a Writer's Toolbox ~By Suzy Leopold

As an instructor, who has taught hundreds of students, throughout the years, teaching the subjects of reading and writing are my favorite.  During Writer’s Workshop lessons, my students are encouraged to use a Writer’s Toolbox.

As a writer, you too, need a Writer’s Toolbox.  What do you have inside your toolbox?

Graphic organizers are one of the many items that are included my students’ toolboxes as an instructional tool that aids in the writing process.  As a writer, I use graphic organizers as a visual aid that organize my thoughts and ideas as I write.  Being able to effectively communicate ideas onto a graphic organizer is an excellent starting point that enhances one's writing.
WHO?        Writers
WHAT?       Graphic Organizers/Webs/Mind 
                        Maps/Concept Maps
WHEN?       Prewriting or anytime during the 
                        writing process
WHERE?    In a Writer’s Toolbox
WHY? To improve on the task or skill of
HOW?          That is the big question and I have 
                        the answers.
Graphic organizers are outstanding instructional strategies that come in a variety of formats.  There are so many to choose from.  Each one serves as a tool that helps a writer to plan and organize ideas, brainstorm, research, problem solve, jot down thoughts or even identify the characters in a picture book story.  There are so many uses for this writing tool.  

Using a graphic organizer, during prewriting, becomes a diagram or a visual map that effectively organizes and enhances a story.  Just as the name implies, a graphic organizer provides organization through a visual along with coherence as a first step with the writing process.  Graphic organizers guide a writer's thoughts, while one writes, filling in the template, which then becomes a visual.  Having a visual guides the writer, throughout the writing process, allowing one to revise, edit and finally creating a polished manuscript that is ready to submit.

  • Venn Diagram:  Effective for comparing and contrasting as it visualizes similarities and differences.

  • Outline:  Helpful to a writer to ensure all points are well thought out and includes detail and support.

  • Ladder:  Using sentence strips or strips of paper, write a stanza, for a poem, on each one.  Revise and edit by moving the written lines around until your piece is polished and just right.
  • A Bubble Graph: An effective visual tool that guides and organizes a writer through brainstorming and pre-writing, while planning an outstanding story, that catches the reader's attention.

  • The Five Ws and How: Who?, What?, When?, Where?, Why?, and How?

  • The Hamburger: Write a topic sentence, that includes a hook, followed by many details and a conclusion.

Meet Rob Sandersan author of a delightful picture book: Cowboy Christmas.

Rob, too, uses graphic organizers for his craft of writing, occasionally. Following are Rob Sander's thoughts on the use of graphic organizers when he writes:

"I imagine it's the teacher in me that always wants to find ways to present information in new ways, to create a new graphic organizer, to help with a problem, or plan step-by-step how to do something (and to teach someone else the steps).  In that spirit, I'll share once again the graphic organizer I designed to help plan a picture book.  I don't use this tool every time I write -- no tool is that wonderful -- but this graphic organizer has come in handy more than once."  May 2012

  • Rob Sander's Picture Book Graphic Organizer:

For more information about Rob Sanders, and his fantastic books, along with resources and critique services, check out Rob's web site, blog spot or you may consider following him on Facebook or Twitter.

Cowboy Christmas By Rob Sanders
Golden Books/Random House

Outer Space Bedtime Race By Rob Sanders
Release Date: Spring 2015, Random House Children's Books

Ruby Rose On Her Toes, By Rob Sanders 

Release Date: Winter 2016, HarperCollins

Web site:
Twitter: RobSandersWrite

Facebook: RobSandersWrites 

Thank you, Mr. Rob Sanders, for permission to share your thoughts and information about the use of graphic organizers to better our writing.
These examples are just a handful of suggested graphic organizers that you may want to consider. 

There are so many graphic organizers to choose from.  You, too, may find the usefulness of using graphic organizers with your writing.  As your ideas flow, jot down your thoughts onto a graphic organizer. Use pictures along with your words. Your thoughts and ideas do not need to be complete sentences at this point. Set your graphic organizer aside. Put it down and return to it later when additional ideas begin to flow from your heart and onto the template. As you continue through the writing process, use the graphic organizer to create a draft.  Write a second draft. Revise and edit.  Write a third draft. Revise and edit some more, and more, if need be. Soon you will create a final, polished copy that is ready for a critique group and/or several rounds of critiques, followed by the just right moment to submit. 

Consider adding several graphic organizers to your writer’s toolbox as you write.