icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Blog

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 
Be the first to comment

Introducing! Kansas/Missouri SCBWI

If you’ve not yet had a chance to look at the website of the NEW! Kansas/Missouri SCBWI chapter, here’s your invitation! And if you’re looking for a children’s author or illustrator in Kansas or Missouri to speak at your school, library or conference, this is the place to look.

The first thing you’ll notice are the wonderful illustrations that roll throughout the middle of the page—all by our talented Kansas / Missouri illustrators. Below that is the ‘Events Calendar,’ highlighting important dates with something going on for aspiring and published authors and illustrators alike.

One of our upcoming events is a Picture Book / Poetry Workshop, on March 11th in Florissant, MO. I was very excited to be asked to lead this workshop! (Click here to find out more about me and my books). The focus is on rhyming poetry and picture books in verse. We’ll take a look at what makes poetry and rhyme something that editors will love. Click on the link above to find out more. Registration is open now, for both members and non-members.

Introducing our KS/MO board members! Click on any of the names on the left side of the page to view their SCBWI profile, and follow the links to their author websites, or to send a message.

At the top left is a picture of our Co-Regional Advisors (RA), Kim Piddington and Sue Gallion. They are our fearless leaders, who plan conferences and events for our members, and keep us motivated!

Before Kansas and Missouri merged into one chapter, Kim Piddington was the RA for the Missouri chapter. She is a former educator, and an author of middle grade and young adult fiction. She is represented by Lori Kilkelly of Rodeen Literary Management.

Sue Gallion is the former RA for the Kansas chapter before our two chapters merged. She has worked in public relations, and is passionate about reading to kids of all ages. Sue met the editor for her first picture book at an SCBWI conference.

Jess Townes is our Assistant Regional Advisor (ARA), and a huge asset to the Regional Advisors. Jess is a writer for All The Wonders, a digital home for readers to discover and experience new books. She writes picture books and middle grade novels, and is represented by Stephanie Fretwell-Hill of Red Fox Literary.

Amy Kenney is our Regional Illustrator Coordinator. She helps create networking and other opportunities for both published and un-published illustrators. Amy is an illustrator and writer.

Andi Osiek volunteers as our webmaster and website designer. She is an illustrator and writer, and a graphic designer.

The Kansas / Missouri SCBWI region provides support to members through networking opportunities, workshops and much more, including an annual conference for all levels of children’s writers and illustrators. Our conferences provide attendees with opportunities for critiques by editors, agents and published authors. And it’s a great way to meet and talk with editors and agents. Click on the words ‘Learn More!’ to find out what SCBWI has to offer you.

To the right on the home page, highlighted in purple, are links highlighting events and opportunities for members and non-members. They include ‘an inside look’ at Stephanie Bearce, Missouri author and winner of the 2016 Crystal Kite award, PAL members with books published in the past year, an illustrator gallery, an interview with our featured author of the month, and a speaker’s bureau where you can find authors in Missouri and Kansas who speak at schools, libraries and conferences.

Watch for more changes and additions to the SCBWI KS/MO chapter, coming soon!

Whether you’re already a member of SCBWI, or new to the organization, check us out for a look at what KS / MO SCBWI chapter has to offer you!  Read More 
Be the first to comment

WRAD--World Read Aloud Day!

Pick up a book and read out loud! Today is World Read Aloud Day,.

On World Read Aloud Day (WRAD), which is celebrated every year across the world, readers of all ages celebrate literacy and the “pure joy and power of reading aloud.” It's a day that calls attention to the importance of reading out loud and sharing stories. And what better books to read out loud are there than picture books and poetry!

In my Valentine's Day post I listed some of my favorite picture books, books with 'heart.' I might have added--

FROGGY EATS OUT by Jonathan London, illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz
In this book Froggy wants to to do the right thing. His heart is in the right place. But he keeps messing up. His parents want Froggy to have good manners. but they see that he really tries, and sometimes that's all they need.

This book is full of onomatopoeia, and is very rhythmic. It makes good use of poetic tools, though it's not written in rhyme.

I think all picture books are poetry. The best picture books have rhythm that carries you along. Many include the power, or magic, of 'threes'--three strikes and you're out, three good things the main character does, and so forth. It makes for good rhythm.

Many picture books include 'sound' words (onomatopoeia), comparisons (simile and metaphor), internal rhyme, repetition of letter sounds (assonance and consonance).

Pick up a favorite or a new book this Thursday, and join others across the globe to read aloud. And if you want to have even more fun, share a picture book with a child--out loud, of course!  Read More 
Be the first to comment

Valentine’s Day—Getting to the Heart of the Story

What is the Heart of your Story?

Authors, editors and agents talk about picture books having ‘heart.’ What exactly is ‘heart? And how do you know if your story has it? I think heart is what makes me ‘feel’ something when I read the story, and makes me feel connected to the story somehow.

Last spring I attended the SCBWI Wild, Wild Midwest conference for children’s writers and illustrators.

Author Lisa Cron said: Story is internal, not external. “Story forces (the characters) to go after what they want.” The internal journey and change is what moves the story forward.

Agent Brianne Johnson said, “You want your character to ‘want’ something deeply.” She used the book BEARD IN A BOX as an example. “At first it was funny and clever,” she said, “but it had no ‘heart’ until author added ‘like his dad.’

Since it’s Valentine’s Day, I thought I would explore what the ‘heart’ is in some of my favorite picture books. My list of favorite picture books continues to get longer! And these are just a few.

MAMA, WHY? Karma Wilson, illustrated by Simon Mendez
Margaret K. McElderry Books 2011
Nighttime comes and the moon sails high in the arctic sky—and Polar Cub asks, “Mama, why?” Each time Polar Cub asks why, Mama Polar Bear answers his questions. In the end she says “let’s rest our heads.… I’ll dream of my dearest the whole night through.” Polar Cub asks “Mama, who?” And she answers “You.”

Heart of the Story: Love—between a mama and her cub. The end of the story becomes more personal, and reassures the little polar bear cub of his mama’s love.

MORTIMER’S FIRST GARDEN Karma Wilson, illustrated by Dan Andreasen
Margaret K McElderry Books 2009
Winter is here, and little Mortimer Mouse longs to see something green, as he nibbles on sunflower seeds that he had saved. When he overhears talk about a garden, Mortimer isn’t sure he believes it, but decides to plant a sunflower seed, just in case.

Heart of the Story: A story of hope, trying new things, and believing in miracles.

LIBRARY LION Michelle Knudsen, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes 2006
Candlewick Press
When a lion comes to the library one day, no one is sure what to do. There aren’t any rules about lions in the library, and he isn’t breaking any library rules. But when something terrible happens, the lion quickly comes to the rescue in the only way he knows how.

Heart of the Story: Friendship and Rules—celebrates reading and books.

BEDTIME FOR FRANCES Russell Hoban, illustrated by Garth Williams
HarperCollins Publishers 1960
Frances is a badger with a big imagination. She is far from asleep at bedtime, and every few minutes she gets up to tell her parents about all of the things she ‘sees’ and ‘hears.’ “Everyone has a job,” her father tells her. “And yours is to go to sleep.” She decides that the moth bumping against her window is just doing his job, and closes her eyes and goes to sleep.

Heart of the Story: Family—children who do not want to go to sleep at bedtime can relate to Frances in this story, wanting attention from their moms and dads, and thinking about all the noises they hear when things get quiet.

MOLE MUSIC David McPhail
Henry Holt & Company 1999
Mole lives alone underground. He feels something is missing in his life, and after hearing a violinist on TV he decides to learn to play the violin. Music makes a difference in his life and he continues to get better at playing the violin. Not realizing how much the music he makes affects the people listening to it above the ground, he imagines playing for others and how it might affect them and the difference it might make in the world.

Heart of the Story: A message of peace, how one person can make a difference, and how music can make a difference in people’s lives.

LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET Matt De La Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson
GP Putnam’s Sons (Penguin) 2015, Newberry Award winner
A young boy rides the bus every day with his nana and asks why they don’t have a car and things that other people have. Along the way and sees things to be grateful for—the bus driver who always has a trick for him, the man with the guitar, and more. He learns how “Some people watch the world with their ears” when they can’t see. By the end of the story he sees that he has much more than many other people have.

Heart of the Story: Finding joy in what you have rather than feeling sad at what you don’t have, and helping others. “Sometimes when you’re surrounded by dirt… you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.”

SITTING DUCK Jackie Urbanovic HarperCollins 2010
“Babysitting is easy!” Brody and Max think. “How much trouble could a puppy get into, anyway?” They find out when they babysit puppy Anabele. When Brody falls asleep, it’s up to Max to take over on his own. After an adventurous afternoon, they are all asleep when Anabelle’s owner comes back to take Anabele home.

Heart of the Story: Family and friends—by the end of the day, Max and Brody find that babysitting can be more fun than trouble.

THE FOX IN THE LIBRARY Lorenz Pauli and Kathrin Scharer
NorthSouth Books 2011
Fox chases Mouse into the library where Mouse tells him “You can only borrow things here…. This isn’t the forest, it’s the library.” Fox finds a book about chickens, which gives him a new idea. Because he can’t read, he takes the book and the CD home with him. He runs into a problem, and comes back the next day with the chicken for more information. He makes a deal with the chicken that will save both their lives if she teaches him to read.

Heart of the Story: Getting along peacefully with others, working together to help each other, combined with a of love of reading.

My idea of what the heart is in each of these picture books may differ from what others think, but it’s what makes me love them so much. Overall, I think I love a book if I love the characters. And ‘heart’ is what makes the characters who they are. And if I can relate to their joys, hopes, dreams and fears, that's the 'heart' of the story.

Happy Valentine's Day! Feel free to share your favorite book, and what the heart of the story is to you.  Read More 
Be the first to comment

New Year's Goals for 2017


With a nudge from one of my writing groups I’ve finally made my New Year’s Resolutions for 2017. Only I’m calling them my ‘Goals for the New Year.’ It sounds better, more ‘do-able.’ I think the mentality of making a resolution for the new year is more of ‘how long will it take until I’ve broken it.’ With setting goals, it’s more likely to be something to shoot for.

Once again, I tried to set goals that are attainable. Something to reach for, but something that I know I can do if I really try. So here goes!

1—Finish one awful picture book first draft every other month, with 3 ready-to-go picture books by the end of 2017. This will be the most challenging, but also fun. And, there is an underlying goal here—to keep a regular schedule of writing.

If I’m not picky about how good my writing is at the start, I’m more likely to write something. And the more I write, the better I get at it. I’m hoping that one of those ‘awful’ first drafts sticks in my head and won’t let go until I get it right! The ‘awful’ picture book drafts are what most of us start off with when we begin a new book. Then many revisions later, it starts to shape up, and finally becomes a great book.

2—Work on more picture books in verse. With A HIPPY-HOPPY TOAD (formerly A Toad in the Road) I got a taste of how much fun it is to work with the language of a picture book, through the verse. It’s more than just a story. It’s how much fun it is to read the words and phrases out loud, too. I want more of that! Whether it’s in rhyme or not.

3—Submit some of my poems to magazines. I have poems that I wrote for picture book collections that were ‘left-over’ when the books were finished. I think there must be some place for them. It would also give me a sense of accomplishment to see my work published in another place for kids to read.

4—Create a facebook author page, and update my website. Having a separate author page on facebook would give readers someplace to look for updates on my writing and author appearances, and my books. It also would be a separate place for me to share other children’s author news and book signings.

5—Read blogs written by children’s authors, editors and agents more often, and check in to twitter more consistently. If I put it on my calendar, I’ll most likely do it.

6—Read 10 picture books a month (easy-peasy), and one grown-up book, just for fun! It’s taking the time to read more of the adult novels that I want to read that’s the challenge here. I had my cataract surgery last year, so it should be easier to do now with better eyesight. I’ll put it on my calendar…

7—Start thinking about what I can do for A HIPPY-HOPPY TOAD. My picture book comes out from Schwartz & Wade in Spring of 2018. The publisher does a lot for my book, from sending it out for reviews ahead of publication, to putting it in their catalogs and on their website and getting it into bookstores. But there are also things that I can do to let my readers, my friends and hometown know that I have this awesome book coming out. This is not my strong point, by far. So I need to look at the lists of advice from my friends who are published children’s authors, check online for information, and ask my publisher if they have suggestions.

I think my 2017 writing plate is full! But who knows what’s to come down the road as we start another new year! Wishing you all a Happy 2017, with goals to keep you on track!  Read More 
Be the first to comment

Reminders for 2017!


I’m sitting here at my computer, and my desk is a bit cluttered. I have—

A tiny toad. He’s looking at me, reminding me that I have something wonderful to look forward to in spring of 2018! That’s when my next picture book, TOAD IN THE ROAD, comes out from Schwartz & Wade. Right now, Toad is my reminder that I can succeed if I keep working at it.

A tiny fox. He’s my reminder that I need to keep working on the story in my head that won’t leave me alone!

My calendar, to keep me on track, reminding me of deadlines and times when I need to take a break to do other things.

My never-ending ‘to-do’ list! This reminds me of the things that move to the back of my mind when I’m wrapped up in what I’m working on. Things to do like answering emails, blogging, making phone calls, critiquing other writer’s manuscripts, and checking websites and newsletters. And things like eating lunch, doing laundry, paying bills, making appointments, family time and books to read!

I also have a postcard that sits on my desk. It says “Believe, dream, will…and put it in the hands of God.” A quote from Dr. Norman Vincent Peale that reminds me to keep on dreaming, believe in myself, and work to achieve my goals and not give up.

I have a small wooden heart that hangs on a knob above my desk that says “Creative clutter is better than idle neatness.” My excuse for my messy work area.

On a shelf is a quote from Winnie the Pooh that says “I am a bear of very little brain and long words bother me.” Something that I thought was appropriate for a writer of picture books.

And another quote that says “Many years from now it will not matter what my worldly possessions had been. What will really matter is that I was important... in the life of a child.”

(I love quotes…)

These things will most likely remain on my desk throughout 2017. They’re important reminders. They keep me focused. I hope you find little ‘reminders’ to keep you focused, too. Keep them in your peripheral line of sight as you work toward your goals in the new year. And 2017 is just around the corner! I wish you much success in 2017!  Read More 
Be the first to comment

A Not-Quite-So-Strange Gift for a Writer


In just a few hours it will be Christmas! We celebrate the season in many different ways, but I think that spreading joy and helping others is a common thread that we all share.

Giving gifts is one way to do that. And finding just the right gift for people that we care about doesn't have to be about what we can buy for them. You can put your creative mind to work and come up with something special. For example--

What can you give a struggling writer for Christmas? A new idea? Some patience, and perseverance? Time to write? Maybe a little bit of inspiration!

This year I gave my writer friends a sewing kit. It sounds like a strange gift for a writer, but if you think hard enough, you can turn anything into some inspiration. It’s all in your presentation.

My sewing kit contained the following items:

Thread
A needle
A needle threader
A thimble
Scissors
Buttons
A safety pin
A straight pin

I added the following instructions:

Thread—use to sew the right words into your story
A needle—use to pull a common thread through your story
A needle threader—use to get that thread started
A thimble—use to keep from getting stuck when writing your story
Scissors—use to cut words in the right places
Buttons—use to hold the pieces of your story together
A safety pin—use to keep it all together
A straight pin—use to help you stick to it when things get tough

Now, if this was a magical sewing kit, it would help get us through a few of the obstacles of writing a good book! And wouldn’t that be great!? But even though it’s not magical, the message is that I’m there for them, wishing them much success.

Merry Christmas / Happy Holidays to all my writing friends as we keep on working to create great books for kids (and adults), and to readers, young and old!

To everyone, as you celebrate this special season, may your holidays be bright and filled with peace and love.  Read More 
Be the first to comment

Celebrating Picture Book Month with Author, Jeanie Ransom!

Jeanie Ransom is one of many new friends that I made through SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) when we moved from Indiana to Missouri five years ago. I’m so pleased to interview her here on my blog during Picture Book Month!

Jeanie is the author of several picture books for children. She is a licensed professional counselor, and former elementary school counselor. She is also a former advertising copywriter and freelance magazine writer.

Earlier this year we celebrated the release of her newest picture book, There’s a Cat in Our Class. Her book celebrates the diversity of children, and the value of accepting and enjoying the differences of others around us. Read more about her book below.

Welcome to my blog, Jeanie!

When you have an idea for a book, how do you start? How do you structure it?

Before I ever start writing, I let the idea roll around in my head for a while. “A while” for me can mean days, months, even years. There are probably still some rolling around up there from when I started writing for kids more than fifteen years ago -- along with a few rocks, I’m sure! I know an idea is ready to take to the page when bits and pieces of the story -- a conversation, a situation, a turn of phrase – start coming to me, often in the middle of the night, or in the shower, or while walking the dogs. That’s when I grab a blank notebook and start playing with words. As more of the story bubbles up from whatever part of my brain it’s been simmering, I capture what I can in a blank notebook, then begin to turn bits and pieces into sentences and paragraphs. I like to write my first draft the “old school” way, in longhand, then move to the computer when the words really start to fly. I like to edit my manuscripts the “old school” way, too, printing out the pages and marking them up by hand. That’s what works for me, but everyone’s different. Find what works for you, then stick with it!

Is there anything that you feel helped you to go from unpublished to published author?

The three Ps: Patience, persistence, and perseverance.

I think we could all post those three P’s as a reminder in the place where we write! How does your experience as an elementary school counselor inform, inspire, and affect your writing, Jeanie?

Before I was a school counselor, I was an advertising copywriter and freelance magazine writer for 20+ years. My first career gave me a solid writing foundation, as well as the ability to pitch and promote a variety of products and services. My second career, as a school counselor, gave me first-hand experience working with kids as well as educators. Both careers prepared me in so many ways for my third career as a children’s author.

What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given about writing?

Write the book you want to write, not the book you think you should write.

Do you have any advice for beginning children’s writers?

Join SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators)! SCBWI has a wealth of resources and opportunities for writers (and illustrators), including conferences, workshops, and retreats.
Attend a state, regional, or national SCBWI conference.
Find a critique group in your area – or online.
Read as many new books in your genre as you can.
Today’s picture books are vastly different from picture books published ten years ago. My first picture book came out in 2000, and the word count was 1,200. My 2016 and 2017 releases all have 750 words or less. The world of children’s publishing is extremely competitive. If you’re serious about getting published, you have to do your homework.

What books are you reading now?

I like to alternate between middle grade and adult fiction, though sometimes I’m reading both genres at the same time, or something totally different, like a memoir or a collection of essays. Right now, I’m reading Ann Patchett’s new novel, “Commonwealth,” which the author autographed when she came to Traverse City, Michigan, last month for the National Writers Series, as well as Peter Brown’s first middle-grade novel, “The Wild Robot.”

Congratulations on another new book that you have coming out soon! What can you tell us about that?

Cowboy Car comes out on April 11, 2017. The illustrator is Ovi Nedelcu, and the publisher is Two Lions. I just got the F&Gs, and I’m really excited to launch this book!

I’m happy to share that excitement with you. Thank you so much for being my guest here during Picture Book Month, Jeanie.

Picture Book Month is an international literacy initiative that celebrates the print picture book during the month of November each year. Jeanie is one of the 2016 Picture Book Champions featured on the Picture Book website. Check her post there (November 12th) to find out why picture books are important to her. Then check out other picture book champions featured there daily throughout the month.

You can find out more about Jeanie and her books on her author website at http://www.jeanieransom.com/.

There’s a Cat in Our Class—A Tale About Getting Along
Magination Press 2016
ISBN: 9 781433 822629
 Read More 
Be the first to comment

Celebrating Picture Books!


Picture Book Month is an international literacy initiative that celebrates the print picture book during the month of November. It encourages the recognition of picture books through blogs, tweets and other activities.

For those of us who write picture books this is a fun time. Just put ‘picture book month’ in the search bar on your computer and you’ll find all kinds of great websites and blog posts to browse through!

Here’s one from 2012 that I hadn’t seen before on the history of children’s picture books. It posted on Brain Pickings: A Brief History of Children’s Picture Books and the Art of Visual Storytelling. The post is really wonderful, and includes many famous quotes with regards to picture books through the years—my favorite part, as I love quotes.

My husband thinks that there is no one who takes more picture books home from the library than I do! I’m sure he’s wrong. But I do take my share of them home. Here are some recent picture books that I’ve enjoyed—

NED THE KNITTING PIRATE by Diana Murray, illustrated by Leslie Lammle (Roaring Brook Press 2016). “We’re grouchy and slouchy. We don’t ever quit! We slurp, and we burp, and we gulp, and we… KNIT!” How does a pirate who likes to knit fit in on a pirate ship?

FRIGHT CLUB by Ethan Long (Bloomsbury 2015). Operation Kiddie Scare looks like it’s going to be a flop. And having an “adorable little bunny” ask to join the Fright Club is no help. Find out what a bunny and its friends do to put the Fright Club back on track.

MR. DUCK MEANS BUSINESS by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Jeff Mack (Simon & Schuster 2011). Mr. Duck is perfectly content, in his quiet pond, with his solitary routine. When a group of noisy farm animals crashes the pond, Duck finally sets them straight, and it's back to his peaceful routine--with one small change that pleases everyone.

THE PIRATE AND THE PENGUIN by Patricia Storms (Owlkids Books 2009). What happens when a penguin who doesn't like penguin things, and a pirate who doesn't like pirate things, cross paths? Another fun read. 

THE VERY NOISY HOUSE by Julie Rhodes, illustrated by Korky Paul (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books 2013). Fun accumulation of noise, floor by floor, in a very tall house! Things start to settle down, then...

The Picture Book Month celebration originated in November 2011 by founder Dianne de Las Casas (author & storyteller), and Co-Founders, Katie Davis (author/illustrator), Elizabeth O. Dulemba (author/illustrator), Tara Lazar (author), and Wendy Martin (author/illustrator).

On the Picture Book Month website, you’ll find daily posts by the 2016 Picture Book Champions blogging about why they feel picture books are important. They include many favorite picture book authors and illustrators.

You’ll also find activities and ways to celebrate picture books on the site. The website includes picture book resources and resources for literacy organizations.

You don’t need young kids to join in on the celebration! But if you want to make it even more fun and you don’t have any kids of your own, you might want to ‘borrow’ some from the neighbors! ps—ask first!  Read More 
Be the first to comment

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 
Be the first to comment