Friday, March 8, 2019

Show Don't Tell Me, Mentor Text

Howdy, Campers ~ happy Poetry Friday!  (my poem and the link to P.F. and are below.)

And the winner of our latest give away--Laurie Wallmark's book, Hedy Lamarr's Double Life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor--is....Katie G!  Katie, a loyal subscriber, also won a TeachingAuthors giveway in 2013. Moral: it pays to hang out in the TeachingAuthors' tree house!

And speaking of the TeachingAuthors' tree house, these days we're up here drinking hot cocoa and sharing how we use Mentor Texts.

Carmela starts us off by defining what mentor text is and more; Bobbi's post talks about what 54 TV years of Doctor Who can teach us; and Mary Ann shows us the ways in which she systematically studied picture books (and found love...sort of).

In all my classes I use mentor texts. Show, Don't Tell is the first thing I teach. Even if a student is a published novelist, a renown screenwriter, or a seasoned journalist, it never hurts to be reminded of what Anton Chekov means when he writes: "Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass."  

image from by Dana Tentis

In one exercise (created by my son when he was in elementary school), volunteers act out something in silence and their classmates guess what they are trying to convey. We discuss: how did they know the dog was happy, the child was having a tantrum, or the woman was old?  They showed us, they didn't tell us, of course.

The first book I read to introduce Show, Don't Tell is Barbara Shook Hazen's masterful and moving picture book illustrated by the brilliant Trina Schart Hyman, TIGHT TIMES (Viking Press, 1979).

I wish I could put this book in your hands, but I can't, so I'll give you an example of how Hazen shows, rather than tells:

When the child narrator asks why he can't have a dog, his father explains,
"Because of tight times" and continues:
"He said tight times are when everything keep going up.
I had a balloon that did that once.
Daddy said tight times are why we all eat Mr. Bulk instead of cereals in little boxes.
I like little boxes better.
Daddy said tight times are why we went to the sprinkler last summer instead of the lake.

I like the lake better."

I just typed the text of this book. It's astonishing what Hazen does in just 694 words. This book was published at a time it was perfectly acceptable to turn in a picture book manuscript of 1200 words or more!

And having typed this text, I can feel in my fingers that one of the picture books I am working on needs more showing, less telling!

* * *

A month before my mother, a classical pianist, died, I couldn't tell you what I was already missing...I had to show it:

by April Halprin Wayland

Quietly she cries,
“Mama, Mama…”

Eyes half-closed,
she lies blanketed in grief.

Where is my mother:
whirling dervish,

spark of light,
moving, always moving,

striking a match,

setting piano keys on fire?

poem (c)2019 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

Okay, you have favorite picture book that demonstrates Show, Don't Tell?  I'd love to know what it is!

Spread the word: on April 13, 2019 from 9:30 am-4:30 pm, author/illustrator Barney Saltzberg, fiction and nonfiction picture book author Alexis O'Neill and I are reprising our one day class at UCLA, Writing a Picture Book and Getting it Published. Join us!

Thank you, Catherine, for hosting Poetry Friday today at Reading to the Core ~

posted with love by April Halprin Wayland, with help from Mateo, our latest monarch butterfly caterpillar, who is currently looking for a place on our kitchen wall to build his chrysalis. 

Mateo, named after a character in this book

Did you know that monarch butterflies are endangered...and that you can help by raising them?  Just ask beloved TeachingAuthor emeritus, JoAnn Early Macken; click here  for the monarch resources on her website.


Linda B said...

Yes, your poem shows all you want us to know about your mother and your feelings, April. I imagine everyone loves your class! A favorite of mine with students was Steig's Brave Irene. Thanks for making me think about what I did again!

Irene Latham said...

Oh wow, you "showed" us your mother, all right! Beautiful, April. Thank you. Wish I could jet over for your class! xo

laurasalas said...

Oh, April, your poem is exploding with grief and with showing. Thank you for sharing it.

Alice Nine said...

Love the insight in this sentence, wise advice for all of us: "And having typed this text, I can feel in my fingers that one of the picture books I am working on needs more showing, less telling!" "Where Is My Mother?" is poignantly beautiful. Stirred my heart!

Carmela Martino said...

Love everything about this post, April, from your Chekov quote to the excerpt from TIGHT TIMES to your moving poem all the way down to the photo of the marvelously industrious Mateo the monarch!

Ruth said...

I use this book for one of my minilessons, but you're right - it's perfect for "Show, Don't Tell." It's a lesson I have to keep teaching - and learning - again and again.

Liz Steinglass said...

Striking a match/setting piano keys on fire. Yep, that shows us so much!

Linda said...

I love Tight Times, and I love your poem too! Great post!

Catherine Flynn said...

I can't imagine teaching without mentor texts. I love the image your lovely, moving poem gives us of your mother: a "spark of light/moving, always moving/striking a match/setting piano keys on fire."

Tabatha said...

From the first poem, I especially liked "why we went to the sprinkler last summer instead of the lake." So much conveyed in few words.
Your poem about your mother is very moving. "Blanketed in grief" is a complete visual and feeling wrapped in one xo

jan godown annino said...

Appreciations for sharing your grief about your dear Mother. There is so much feeling of love - and loss-
in "Where is My Mother"

To answer your request -
Some suggested mentor picture booksI like/love grabbed from those applicable, closest by -
AROUND OUR WAY ON NEIGHBORS' DAY - Tameka Fryer Brown (met her via Skype in Highlights workshop)
SURF'S UP - Kwame Alexander
HOT ROD HAMSTER - Cynthia Lord
GOOD MOUSEKEEPING - J. Patrick Lewis (poems that also show, don't tell)

And ditto what Irene said, wish I had wings to transport to the class!

Molly Hogan said...

Your poem for your mother is heart-wrenchingly beautiful from start to finish.

Mary Ann Rodman said...

I just about dropped my coffee mug when you mentioned Barbara Shook Hazen's Tight Times. I remember that book well from my early days as a children's librarian. Also, for the last week or so, the words "tight times" have been rattling around my head in connection with a current picture book I'm noodling with. Guess I will find a new phrase! And thank you for both your son's show-don't-tell exercise (I do something similar with my writing classes but not as focused as this exercise) and the Chekov quote. Sometime's it's so hard to explain "show-don't-tell" and wind up doing nothing BUT telling. As always, your posts are right on the mark. The poem about your mom gives me a lot to think about. I miss both my parents but like you, can't put a name to WHAT I am missing. More mental sustenance over which to muse.

author amok said...

I've marked the Doctor Who post to come back to later (thanks for the link -- I'm a huge fan!) Beautiful poem about your mother, April. You made an important point about elegies too -- by describing her energy and her music, the reader feels some of your mother's bright spark.

Carla Killough McClafferty said...

Dear April, so beautiful. You say so much, so fast, and soooo good. Carla