Guest blogger Mary Cronk Farrell continues our occasional series on “Showing vs. Telling,” the eternal bugaboo of the writer. (Read PART I here). Take it away, Mary!
This is from my biography of Fannie Sellins, a labor organizer. It’s a longer picture book for older readers. It’s actually non-fiction, which presents a different challenge than fiction, in that you must comb the facts for the details to bring your scenes to life.
Fannie Sellins went on a national tour speaking about the garment worker’s strike and asking for donations. Everywhere she went, she saw people working long hours for low pay in unsafe conditions. Her message was always the same—If we stick together, we can make change.
“A little spinner in the Mollohan Mills, Newberry, S.C. ” Photo by Lewis Hine, 1910
Fannie Sellins traveled from city to city by train. She saw girls in Chicago button factories cut their fingers on the jagged shells used to make buttons. There was no medicine to treat infection. Girls in New England cotton mills got hurt or even died when their hair or arms accidently caught in powerful weaving looms.
“Help us fight,” Fannie told coal miners in Illinois. “We women go into factories among dangerous machinery and many of us get horribly injured or killed. Many of your brothers die in the mines.”
The miners stomped and shouted agreement. Some wiped tears from their eyes.
In Iowa, union carpenters listened to Fannie. “If we stick together, we can win,” she said. People jumped to their feet, clapping and whooping.
“Pass the hat,” someone hollered and it went hand to hand. Coins jingled and bills rustled. Fannie collected one thousand dollars to help striking garment workers feed their families.
Wherever she went, working people interrupted her speeches with cheering.
“You need new pants?” Fannie asked. “Don’t buy from Marx & Haas. Buy union label.”
People did. Orders for pants went down so much, Marx & Haas had to close one factory. With the money Fannie raised, strikers held out for two years until Marx & Haas agreed to re-hire union workers and raise wages.
Thanks, Mary! Great example!
Sensory details are particularly important in bringing nonfiction to life. Notice that Mary wasn’t there when the union carpenters passed the hat, but she knows that coins jingle and bills rustle when you throw them together. Those sounds really put us in the scene.
Don’t forget to pre-order Mary’s newest book:
PURE GRIT: A STORY OF RESILIENCE & SURVIVAL
American forces on Corregidor Island surrendered under a hot sun at noon, May 4, 1942.
After five months of brutal combat nursing, 68 American women became Japanese prisoners of war.
The women had arrived in the Philippines unprepared for war and expecting a tropical play land. Rising to the occasion, they were driven to the limits of endurance nursing wounded and dying American soldiers. Now the woman faced the horrors of prison camp–disease, starvation, and humiliation by their guards.
With ingenuity and dedication to duty, the U.S. Army and Navy women set up a hospital for other prisoners, nursing as long as they had the strength to rise from their pallets. For three years behind barbed wire the women would turn suffering into humor, hope and the will to survive. Their pure grit testifies to the resilience of the human mind, body and spirit.
She’s an award-winning author of children’s and YA books and former journalist with a passion for stories about people facing great adversity with courage. Her books have been named Notable Social Studies Book for Young People, SPUR Award for Best Juvenile Fiction about the American West, Bank Street College List of Best Children’s Books, and NY Public Library Best Books for Teens. Her journalistic work has received numerous awards for excellence from the Society of Professional Journalists and two Emmy nominations. Find her at her website and on Twitter.