Jan/Feb 2005  •   Reviews & Interviews

Show; Don't Tell! Secrets of Writing

Review by Colleen Mondor

Show; Don't Tell! Secrets of Writing.
Josephine Nobisso, illustrated by Eva Montanari.
Gingerbread House Books. 2004.
Ages 6 and up.

Well, this is a first. I have never seen a book on creative writing for young readers. I'm sure they must be out there somewhere (right?!), but the only titles I've seen are rather dry, text-filled books that are offered more for the middle grade ages than younger readers. In truth, Show; Don't Tell! is excellent up to high school level as the information it packs in would be useful to any budding writer. While the illustrations might put off older readers they should embrace the fun and let themselves learn a little. Nobisso wants writing, which is hard work, to also be an enjoyable experience. The book's format embraces that conviction while also making it a very amusing read.

Nobisso has been conducting writing workshops in schools since 1988 and Show is based on the program she developed for those workshops. Rather than dwell on themes or forms, she starts at the bottom with the most fundamental aspects of writing. In many ways Show is more a grammar book than anything else, but not in the diagramming of sentences type way. It actually reminded me of Karen Elizabeth Gordon's very cool series of grammar books ( The Well Tempered Sentence, etc. Both authors are clearly committed to teaching old lessons in a radically new way, something which all budding writers should support at the earliest possible moment.

In Show, Nobisso and illustrator Eva Montanari use a delightful set of curious animals to address the many questions that plague the writing craft. A lion, hippo, cow, mouse, penguin and duck all pull the reader along as they explore the world of who, what, when, where and how. They also learn about nouns and adjectives and using the art of description to show the reader a story, rather then simply to tell. It's a subtle difference, but a crucial one and is all too often overlooked for beginning writers. By making an interesting story out of this lesson, and combining it with Montanari's whimsical art, Nobisso makes it clear that you are never too young to learn to write well. She treats her young audience with respect and thus gains a lot of respect in return. All too many writers hear at the earliest of ages that they are dreamers and must find something practical to do with their lives. Nobisso is a success story herself and with Show; Don't Tell she spreads the message of that success to others who wish to emulate her. You are already a writer, she is saying here, just read and learn how to be a better one.

So what are you waiting for? Open the book; open it and learn the writing craft. There's no rule that says you have to wait until college for decent writing advice. This is the basic stuff you need to follow in the footsteps of all my writing heroes. Open this book, and write. Write, write, write, write, WRITE!


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