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Children’s Poetry—Love it! Study it, Write it!


I missed posting about National Library Week last week. I meant to, but I was busy reading all those picture books that I brought home to study!

Read what you write is great advice for children’s writers. So, what does reading children’s poetry have to do with writing it?

I read first for pleasure. I know quickly if I’m going to love the book I’m reading. I like it when the rhythm flows and doesn’t trip me up, when the rhyme doesn’t slow me down, and when there’s an ending that makes me feel something, or ‘think’ about something.

Once I’ve read the book for pleasure, I go back and try to figure out why I love the book (or didn’t). What was it that got me caught up in it?

Did the rhythm fit the topic being written about?

Sandra Boynton’s BARNYARD DANCE is a barnyard dance! The rhythm makes you want to stomp your feet and clap your hands with the rest of them.

In NINJA, NINJA, NEVER STOP! by Todd Tuell you might ‘feel’ like a sneaky ninja, just like the big brother in this book for young readers.

Did the language bring you into the story?

In HOW DO DINOSAURS GET WELL SOON, Jane Yolen uses language that makes you feel a part of the story, watching it unfold in front of you. Active verbs like fling, dump, wail. Alliteration like whimper and whine, and with tooth and with tail. I dare you to count the adjectives in this book!

In TEN LITTLE LAMBS by Alice McGinty, words like ‘tackel and tumble’ and ‘wrestle and rumble’ make you want to stay up all night and have fun instead of going to sleep!

Is there a good story, with developed characters, a plot, and ‘heart’?

In MONSTER TROUBLE by Lane Fredrickson we wonder, will Winifred Schnitzel, who was never afraid of anything, ever get rid of those monsters who try to scare her every night?

And in COWPOKE CLYDE RIDES THE RANGE by Lori Mortensen, will Clyde ever learn to ride that bicycle?

Finally, I try to imitate the qualities that I see in those books that made me love them. How can I make my own writing do that for readers out there? I write and revise, many times, until I get it just right. Then I hope it gets my readers caught up in the verse the way those books did for me.

One final picture book in verse that impressed me was FREEDOM IN CONGO SQUARE by Carole Boston Weatherford. This 2017 Caldecott Honor Book is a story of slaves, who worked relentlessly, day by day throughout the week. Though it shows the hardships that they endured, it is told in a lively rhythm of anticipation for the one day of the week when they get a taste of freedom in Congo Square. An introduction by historian Freddi Williams Evans, and an author’s note at the end, round it all out.

I would be lost without my local library, and all the people who work there. They help me find the books that I’m looking for, and make suggestions. I love that I can reserve books online and they will get them together for me—all I need to do is go in and pick them up! Not to mention the displays, programs and events that they put together for readers. My heartfelt gratitude to all of you!  Read More 
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Poetry Month and Picture Books in Verse



It’s Poetry Month once again, and I’ve been bringing home bags of rhyming picture books from the library! Here are some of my favorites, so far.

Bedtime at the Swamp
by Kristyn Crow, illustrated by Macky Pamintuan
A perfect 'read' for poetry month, or any time of year. "Splish splash rumba-rumba bim bam BOOM!" The fun rhythm and language in this 'scary' bedtime story will capture young readers' attention. Great illustrations, and a fun ending— with a mom after my own heart. This one is my new favorite picture book in verse!

The Cow Loves Cookies
by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Marcellus Hall
All of the animals on the farm love their own special food, even Cow. But what Cow loves to eat is not quite what you’d expect, because “the cow loves cookies!” Readers will enjoy the rhyme and rhythm in this book, and look forward to the punch line after each animal is fed their food. Find out ‘why’ Cow loves cookies so much, and what Farmer’s favorite food is, at the end of the story. Fun illustrations add to this great read-aloud picture book.

Goodnight, Ark
by Laura Sassi, illustrated by Jane Chapman
GOODNIGHT, ARK gives readers a close up look at Noah and the animals on the ark. "All Aboard!" Noah calls. That night, after Noah is in bed, the storm gets worse and the animals run to join Noah in his bed--until the skunks arrive. Read to find out how Noah gets them all back to sleep again. Well written rhyme and rhythm, and colorful illustrations.

Bubble Gum, Bubble Gum
by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith
"Bubble gum, bubble gum, Chewy-gooey bubble gum..." Everyone gets stuck in the bubble gum on the road! What do they do when a big blue truck comes down the road right toward them? And how do they save themselves from the big-bottomed bear? A fun read for poetry month or any time.

Mortimer’s First Garden
by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Dan Andreasen
Another great book by Karma Wilson, and perfect for spring! This book is a combination of lyrical prose with rhyming verse. Little Mortimer Mouse loves sunflower seeds. Tired of brown, and longing to see some green after winter, he overhears the children talking about planting a garden. He's not sure he believes in the miracle that will change one seed into more seeds by putting it in the ground and covering it with dirt. But he gives it a try, and has faith. (If you love this book you'll also love Mortimer's Christmas Manger).

April—National Poetry Month— Writer or Reader, it’s a good time to get back in touch with poetry and rhyme in children’s books. If you enjoy books in verse, then you’ll want to follow the daily blog posts by authors, editors and agents on Angie Karcher’s RhyPiBoMo. Sounds like a secret language? It’s just ‘code’ for Rhyming Picture Book Month!  Read More 
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Are picture books with rhyming verse considered poetry?


I’ve always thought of picture books in verse as poetry. But apparently not everyone agrees. And what about picture books in which there is a rhyme, sometimes repeating, within the story?

Some of my kids’ favorite books were the Frances books by Russell Hoban. Frances is a badger, and her stories relate to some of the insecurities that young children experience. Titles about Frances include BREAD AND JAM FOR FRANCES, A BABY SISTER FOR FRANCES, and BEDTIME FOR FRANCES.

A common trait in the books is that, at times, Frances makes up rhymes. For my kids, a favorite Frances rhyme (BEDTIME FOR FRANCES) goes like this—

“S is for sailboat,
T is for tiger,
U is for underwear, down in the drier…”

They would read that line over and over! I’m sure the rhymes in these books played a part in their enjoyment of poetry as well as honing their reading skills. The rhymes, and the humor, make these books fun to read.

BELLA & BEAN by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, is a story about two mice with different personalities who are friends. Bella is a poet. In this book, not all of the poems that Bella writes rhyme. She writes lists of words, and then uses them to create a poem. At the end she writes a poem about the two friends. It begins—

“One blanket
holds two friends
calm and cozy
at the edge of a pond….”

To me this book is about creating a poem as much as it is about friendship. And it brings home the point to young children that all poems do not have to rhyme.

Please stop by this Wednesday for an Interview with Donna M. Bateman, author of two wonderful picture books in verse about nature!

The Frances books by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Garth Williams, HarperCollins Publishers 1960’s
Bella & Bean by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, illustrated by Aileen Leijten, Atheneum Books for Young Readers 2009

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Wednesday Interview with Donna M. Bateman, Children's Author!


Children’s author Donna M. Bateman’s rhyming text combines with interesting facts to create wonderful non-fiction for children. Her first book, Deep in the Swamp, won the Southern Independent Book Alliance award. Out on the Prairie is her second picture book published by Charlesbridge, and is a finalist for the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award. Donna is a former high school language teacher. She lives in the St. Louis area with her husband and two children.

Welcome, Donna! I’m so happy to talk to you here during Poetry Month.

I love the language in your books, as well as your rhythm and rhyme. Are there any books or authors that have influenced your writing?

A: My two favorite rhyming writers are Lisa Wheeler and Karma Wilson. Both are so clever in their use of language and rhyme, with stories that surprise and delight.

Favorite rhyming picture books are The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman and The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson. Another favorite book, non-rhyming, is Rattletrap Car by Phyllis Root—so fun to read aloud with an appropriate hillbilly accent. I have many other favorites among the 200 or so picture books that I own.

Can you tell us a little bit about your latest book, Out on the Prairie? What was the inspiration for writing this book?

A: After the success of Deep in the Swamp, which earned starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal and Publisher's Weekly, teachers were asking for more books in the same format. After considering possible biomes, I chose the prairie as one that interested me. Missouri is a prairie state, although there is not much prairie left. As with SWAMP, I chose a specific setting. SWAMP is set in the Okefenokee Swamp and PRAIRIE is set in the badlands of South Dakota. Both books include a variety of animal types—mammals, birds, reptiles, even a grasshopper and a crayfish!

I know that you don’t consider your text poetry, but rather a story in verse. What do you feel is the difference between poetry and a story in verse? Which for you is more difficult to write?

A: For me, poetry is more about evoking a feeling, usually in shorthand rather than coming right out and saying “you should feel happy now,” or “you should feel angry now.” And although we tend to expect poems to rhyme, prose poems are also possible. A rhyming story has all the requirements of any other good story. The rhyming component just makes it a little more difficult to write, but I have found that some of my stories cry out for rhyme, while others definitely need to be written in prose. I have written a few poems, rhyming and otherwise, but poetry is not my forte.

Your books are counting books about nature and animals. The last sections in your books give interesting facts about the animals and plant life in your books. What kind of research do you do before writing your books?

A: For Deep in the Swamp I did book research and online research. I also contacted experts, including at the St. Louis Zoo, for answers to specific questions. In addition to turning to books, online information and experts in my research for Out on the Prairie, I was able to visit the Badlands of South Dakota to experience the prairie first hand. I was so excited to actually see four of the animals included in my book—bison, pronghorn, prairie dogs and a Western Meadowlark.

How awesome to be able to see first-hand where your book takes place! Do you have any input on the illustrations for your books?

A: No, the editor and art director choose the illustrator. I do see the art at various stages and can point out any mistakes based on my research, although the illustrators do their own research so they know what the animals and plants look like.

The illustrations for both of your books compliment the text very well, but they have very different styles. What do you feel the illustrators have brought to your stories?

A: The art definitely gives the book shelf appeal. The books would be less appealing without the beautiful illustrations to complement the text. My editor wanted the illustrations to be realistic yet whimsical. I think both illustrators—Brian Lies (SWAMP) and Susan Swan (PRAIRIE)--succeeded wonderfully!

Your first two books are non-fiction for children. Do you have any interest in writing fiction for children? What about writing for adults?

A: Actually, SWAMP and PRAIRIE are my only non-fiction works. I have well over a dozen other picture book stories on my computer, all of which are fiction.

When I first conceived of Deep in the Swamp, it didn't occur to me that the story would be non-fiction. I had read the original rhyme, Over in the Meadow, to my children and I thought it would be interesting to write a similar rhyme set in a specific biome. I chose the swamp as an interesting setting for my rhyme. Of course, I was not satisfied with just writing a rhyme willy-nilly, as it were. For me, everything had to be true and correct—each animal mother must have an appropriate number of babies, each animal must behave appropriately for the time of day (both books show a story arc starting in the morning, through the afternoon, and into the evening/night), the setting must show plants that are found in each area of the swamp or prairie. Once I decided to add the back matter to SWAMP—flora and fauna facts—it dawned on me that I had written a rhyming, non-fiction picture book.

I have no desire to write for adults. I seldom even read adult fiction. Middle grade and young adult novels are so wonderfully written, so cleverly conceived, so rich, that whenever I read adult novels, I find myself comparing them unfavorably to the children's literature I read.

When my children were small, I read a plethora of picture books to them and fell in love with the genre. In the writing world, picture books are my first love. Perhaps I'll try to pen a novel for children or teens at some point, but my brain is so geared toward picture books that I'm sure I would find it quite difficult.

What current projects are you working on now?

A: I am currently working on a story about a short Sasquatch.

Where do you turn for writing instruction and inspiration?

A: I have quite a few “how to write for children” books that I'll turn to from time to time for instruction. Of course for specific help with my stories, I turn to my fabulous critique group. For inspiration, it's all around, although my children have been the catalyst for several stories. Just a word or two can spark a story idea or a story title that I'll develop a story around. But I have never written a story about my children and I never will. I write fiction and no matter how cute or funny I think my children are, their real life activities or adventures do not make for good picture book stories.

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

A: In order to learn the craft of writing for children, I suggest that beginners read as many “how to write for children” books as possible. Your local library is a good source for these books. Read, read, read books of the type you wish to write—PB, MG or YA. Once you have a handle on how to write for children, write! Or revise stories you may have already written.

Join SCBWI and take advantage of all the SCBWI has to offer. You may be able to find a critique group, either online or in person, through SCBWI. A critique group is an important tool for any writer, especially for beginners who would greatly benefit from the guidance of more seasoned writers. Attending conferences allows you to learn, network and possibly receive feedback from a published author, editor or agent. Although a beginner may be tempted to jump right to this step, bypassing some of the others, I strongly suggest you wait until you have a good idea of what you are doing through reading and learning your craft before attending your first conference. I believe you will get more from the experience if you have the basics of writing for children under your belt first.

Where can people find more information about you and your books?

A: I don't have a website so the best place to find out about my books would be the Charlesbridge Publishing website. If you Google the books, you might find the reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal and Publisher's Weekly. Both books received stars from all three publications. Some of the reviews are also included on Amazon.com.

Thank you so much for sharing your insight and your books with everyone here, Donna!

You can find out more about Donna and her books on the Charlesbridge website.

DEEP IN THE SWAMP, illustrated by Brian Lies
ISBN: 978-1-57091-596-3
OUT ON THE PRAIRIE, illustrated by Susan Swan
ISBN: 978-1-58089-377-0
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