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Rhythm and Rhyme in Children’s Poetry—Perfect… or Not?


Last week I visited Nancy Polette’s class for adults on Writing for Children and talked about my journey from Reader to Writer. I came to the part where I had written some board books for Highlights Press, and said how important it had been to them that my verse was absolutely perfect in rhyme and rhythm. That’s when one of the students brought up a question that I’m sure many aspiring children’s poets ask.

He said, “I hear it all the time, make your rhyme and rhythm perfect! But,” he said, “I read many books of children’s poetry and books in verse, and they are not written with perfect rhythm and rhyme!” He wanted to know why we say to make your poetry perfect when so much of what we see published is not so.

I’m sure that I didn’t answer his question very well then. So I thought I’d put some of my thoughts about it here.

I enjoy rhyme in children’s poetry, whether it’s a collection of poems or a picture book in verse. I like it when the rhythm is right on, and the rhyme isn’t forced. It bothers me when words are switched around to make them rhyme, and when the rhythm trips me up. It interrupts my thoughts, and it interrupts the story. And I’m not sure why some of those books get published.

That’s how I feel, and I know that editors who say that they don’t want to see any poetry, really mean they don’t want to see bad poetry—‘bad’ meaning imperfect rhythm and rhyme. And they do see a lot of it. So an author who is talking to beginning children’s writers about writing poetry or books in verse would be neglect if they didn’t pass that along to their listeners.

Yes, there are many rhyming books for children, and they’re not all done very well. But the children’s authors who write poetry and do it well, with good rhyme and rhythm, have books that are on the ‘best books for children lists,’ and that are nominated or win awards. And those are the kinds of books that editors are looking for.

So, one reason for writing perfect rhyme and rhythm is in the competition. Your book is going to compete with the thousands of picture books that cross an editor’s desk each day/week/month. And by working to make your book the best that you can, you’re working your way past that first reader and past all of those manuscripts, toward the editor’s desk.

Talking more on the topic, the student said that often 'when he reads a book where the rhyme is perfect, it’s boring!' Some years back, the general opinion in the publishing world was that younger kids liked rhyming poetry, but older students did not, and preferred free verse. I remember that I disagreed, and I still do. I think that if rhyme is done well, it’s fun. It can also be a learning tool for older children as well as younger ones—for example, when learning the names of the states, or learning musical notes.

Boring? If a rhyming poem for older children is very long, and written in simple verses of four lines throughout the book or poem, it would probably be a bit boring. But it can be fixed! You can add detail, and rich language. You can ‘change it up’ a bit in places, with a repeating phrase or repeating lines. Put a twist at the end.

For younger children, such as the 0 to 2 year-old group that the Highlights board books target, rhyme should be perfect, because it makes it easier for them to understand, and to learn. Most board books at this age are concept books, designed to teach the child something. They are short, to go with the short attention span of a two year-old. Verse that follows the same pattern, and the same rhyme scheme become familiar to them, and they expect it. Not all board books are written for this young age.

If you’re thinking of writing for this age, or any age child, I would suggest getting a book about the developmental stages of children. As a former nurse who worked with children, I have a medical book that shows this. There are many other books for parents on child development including the ‘What to Expect When Your Child is…’ books.

As a child grows he has better comprehension, and you can add some unexpected rhythm—maybe an added syllable in just the right place, like a grace note in music. Or extra syllables to speed things up. But before you do, write perfect rhyme and rhythm!

I think that before you ‘break the rules,’ you should ‘learn the rules.’ If you do that, then when you do make exceptions you’ll understand why it works. And it will make your poetry better.

Perfect rhyme, and perfect rhythm, isn’t easy! And it isn’t quick. But it’s worth the effort. So don’t give up! And maybe someday your collection of poems or picture book in verse will be on that list of ‘best books for children!’  Read More 
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Join the Poetry Fun on the Web!


Blogs for reading, Blogs for writing—which is your choice?

Come join the party and celebrate poetry! Whether you like to read poetry or write it, and even if you think you don't like poetry at all, there‘s a blog for you! Here are just a few of the blog sites that are celebrating poetry this month.

Blogs for people who write children’s poetry:

30/30 Poetry Challenge 2013
Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to write a poem based on the prompt received for that day. Sign up to receive a prompt every day during April, or view it on the website. You receive your prompt by noon. You have until noon the next day to complete the challenge! If your poem is selected, it will be posted on the website on the evening your poem was received. Complete instructions are posted on the website, including a Poetry Challenge for kids.

Writing the World for Kids
Watch the Poem Starter Video on Laura Purdey Salas’ blog, then take on its challenge to write a poem in 15 words or less. Each day in April features a poem by a different children’s poet.

30 Words 30 Days
It started with a single word on April 1st. Each day another word is added, inspired by readers’ suggestions in their comments. At the end of the month there will be a complete 30-word poem! Take a look at the first 5 words and then join in the fun.

Stem Friday
Write a STEM poem and learn about Haiku. Select your topic from Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM). Then share your STEM poem in the comments on the Haiku page.

Blogs for readers of children’s poetry:

Gotta Book: 30 Poets/30 Days
Every day during April, author Greg Pincus will feature an unpublished poem by a favorite children’s author on his blog, Gotta Book. The poems are fun to read, and many schools incorporate the event into their lesson plans.

Poetry Foundation Children's Poetry
Watch videos of children’s Poet Laureates reading their poems and talking about poetry for children. There are also links to other resources and articles.

2013 Kidlitosphere Progressive Poem
Watch a poem grow day-by-day, as it travels across the Kidlitosphere! Every day throughout April, different people take turns at adding a new line to a growing poem. Start reading here and follow along each day.

Websites for those who think they don’t like poetry:

Giggle Poetry
Visit Bruce Landsky’s website for a look at some fun poems and some poetry fun and games.

Poetry 4 Kids
More poems, fun and games for kids (and grown-up kids) at Ken Nesbitt’s poetry website.

Jack Prelutsky
If you’ve never visited this poetry site for kids you’re in for a treat. Fun poems with animation and sound.

Shel Silverstein
A fun interactive website with poems, puzzles, games and more.

This is just a taste of what’s out there! Enjoy!  Read More 
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Fall Poetry Contest

Happy Fall! In our part of the country the leaves are changing colors and scarecrows and pumpkins are appearing on front porches. Earlier this week I chased a rolling jack-o-lantern down the street!

This month the Children's Writer is calling all children's poets to enter their Poetry Writing Contest. Here's the scoop!

The winners in this contest will be published in Children’s Writer, the monthly newsletter that goes to almost 1,300 children’s book and magazine editors in North America. Along with the winning pieces, we’ll publish an article about the top-ranked entries and their authors. There are also cash prizes. The cash prizes alone are a lot of good reasons to write a piece and enter.

Current Contest: Poetry

The contest is for a single poem, collection of poems, or verse story for children of any age, to 300 words. Entries may be serious or humorous, and take any poetic form. Winners will be selected based on quality of verse—including rhythm, meter, word choice, wordplay, imagery, and the use of other poetic devices (rhyme, alliteration, assonance, or others). Above all, the winning entries will have appeal for young readers.

Entries must be received by October 31, 2011. Current subscribers to Children’s Writer enter free. All others pay an entry fee of $15, which includes an 8-month subscription. Winners will be announced in the March 2012 issue. Prizes: $500 for first place plus publication in Children’s Writer, $250 for second place, and $100 for third, fourth, and fifth places.

For more information and to enter, click on the image above or go to the contest website at: http://www.thechildrenswriter.com/af627/.

Good luck!  Read More 
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Poetry Month Marches On!

Here are a few more websites to check out for National Poetry Month.

www.rhymezone.com
Rhyme Zone: a rhyming dictionary and thesauris.

http://laurasalas.livejournal.com/213207.html
15 Words or Less: Take the challenge by Laura Salas. Write a poem in 15 words or less, prompted by photos posted.

http://jamarattigan.livejournal.com/411405.html
Alphabet Soup: a fun interview by Greg Pincus is one of the Poetry Makers featured on Jama Rattigan's blog this month.

http://www.teachingauthors.com/
Teaching Authors: check the latest blog by April Halprin Wayland on How I Wrote This Poem--a Poetry Writing Workout.

Enjoy! Check back next week for more on my latest school and library visits.

I hope to see some of you at the book launch for my picture book, NAME THAT DOG! Puppy Poems from A to Z  Read More 
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Happy Birthday, Name That Dog!


It's official-- Name That Dog! is finally released for sale by Penguin's Dial Books for Young Readers,and is available in bookstores and on line!

Happy Spring!

Happy Poetry Month!

Happy Reading!

I'll be looking at poetry books for children, poetry blogs and websites, and posting more this month.
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