15 Picture Books That Demonstrate “Show, Don’t Tell”

In my workshop, “The Secrets of Showing,” we explore revision tools to help writers spotlight the important themes and developments in their stories using dialogue, action beats, strong word choices, and more. Though writers often think of longer works as the domain of “show, don’t tell”, showing in picture books is even more crucial. Picture book authors get fewer words to work with, so each one must draw the reader into the story and help them connect with the characters. Here are 15 mentor picture books texts that use strong details, dialogue, and more to exemplify a balance of showing and telling.

For each book, think about:

  • What does the protagonist want? What goal do they pursue? (external plot)
  • What does the protagonist need? What lesson do they learn in the course of the story? (internal plot)
  • What techniques do the author and illustrator use take the reader along on the protagonists’ journey and spotlight the wants and needs?


Pug Meets Pig by Joyce Wan, illustrated by Sue Lowell Gallion

Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, illustrated by Vashti Harrison

Pete’s a Pizza by William Steig

Yoko by Rosemary Wells


Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, illustrated by John Schoenherr

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman


Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She was Extinct by Mo Willems

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright

The Printer by Myron Uhlberg, illustrated by Henri Sorenson


Sulwe by Lupita Nyongo’o, illustrated by Vashti Harrison

Joan Proctor, Dragon Doctor by Patricia Valdez, illustrated Felicita Sala

My Heart Glow by Emily Arnold McCully

For more resources on creating compelling picture books, check out this fantastic 3-part blog post by Natascha Biebow at the Words & Pictures blog:

Part 1: Writing Action  |  Part 2: Pacing  |  Part 3: Show, Don’t Tell 

More resources for writers from Kathy MacMillan

Missed “Show, Don’t Tell: An Online Workshop for Writers”? Contact me to purchase recording access!


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