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Are you a picture book writer? Excellent! So am I. Do you love poetry books? So do I. Have you heard it said that publishers are not acquiring poetry picture books? Yeah, so have I. Despite that, look at the number of rhyming books on today's shelves. I have undertaken the task of dissecting some of these rhyming stories. In the process I have learned a lot!


Come along as I ask: Why does this work and how can it help you? 


Example: Free Verse

HEAR THE WIND BLOW

written by doe boyle

art by emily paik

Awaken to the calm-


the peaceful pink of dawn’s night.


Note a kiss of air, a soft breath,


a phantom wisp, faint as shadows,


cool and crisp.


Bend an ear to the breeze-


hear the scuffling, ruffling futter-


leaves go scuttling in the gutter.


Why does this work and how can it help you?


Free verse can be defined as poetry that is free from limitations of regular meter and rhyme. A free verse poem provides artistic expression, in that it closely follows the cadences of human speech.


By using techniques such as metaphor, simile, alliteration, consonance, assonance, the writer of free verse does not just provide information, but also stirs emotion.


  • The peaceful pink of dawn’s night. Can you not see the sun set?
  • Note a kiss of air, a soft breath. Can you not smell the freshness in the forming dew?
  • A phantom wisp, faint as shadows. Can you not feel the breeze on your cheeks?

This picture book focuses on how the wind affects our world. Each stanza represents one of the thirteen categories of the Beaufort wind force scale.

Why not give it a try? Close your eyes, stir you senses and write what you feel. 

Example: Poetry within Prose

LITTLE RED RHYMING HOOD

by Sue Flies art by Petros Bouloubasis

Once there was a girl who spoke only in rhyme. This drew attention.


Want to/ ride the/ swings with/ me? /-/-/-/

Race our/ bikes or/ climb a/ tree?/-/-/-/


“Look, everybody, the sad little rhymer has no friends,” teased the Big Brad Wolf.


“You don’t/ bother/ +me, /big Brad. /-/+/-/

Nast/y words/ won’t make/ me sad.” /-/-/-/

Why does this work and how can it help you?


  • Did you notice this has tension, page turns and an emotional arc?
  • Did you notice that the rhyme happens only when the girl is speaking? This works because there is a reason for it. In this story we are learning about a girl who can only speak in rhyme. How this causes her problems and how she overcomes these problems.
  • This works because the story is not serving the rhyme

Example: Lyrical Prose

LOVING HANDS

by Tony Johnston art by Amy June Bates

A child/ is born/ one win/ter day -/-/-/-/

His moth/er calls/ him lamb. -/-/-/

She hums/ a tune/ that has/ no words -/-/-/-/

and holds/ her bab/y’s hands. -/-/-/

Why does this work and how can it help you?


  • Did you notice that the first stanza near rhymes?
  • Did you notice it holds its rhythm all the way through?

This concept book has more near rhymes than true rhymes. How can a rhyme crime such as this be published! However this is lyrical prose, that just happens to have a rhythm of iamb and a rhyme or two spattered in between here and there. Something that confuses the poet yet, engages the reader.

A poignant story that in my opinion, is well done!

Are you a picture book writer? Excellent! So am I. Do you love poetry books? So do I. Have you heard it said that publishers are not acquiring poetry picture books? Yeah, so have I. Despite that, look at the number of rhyming books on today's shelves. I have undertaken the task of dissecting some of these rhyming stories. In the process I have learned a lot!


Come along as I ask: Why does this work and how can it help you? 


Example: Rhythm in Lyrical Prose

WORLD OF WONDER

THE DEEP BLUE a poetry collection

By Charlotte Guillian

Art by Lou Baker Smith 


THE POOL OF THE TIDE

Water laps and creeps up the beach under

a moonlit Sky. Soon the shore has vanished

underwater, as waves roll steadily on to the land.


By Daybreak, the sea has slipped away again,

leaving shiny pebbles and gleaming mud flats

to dry in the morning sun. In and out, in and

out -the tides are constantly moving.  


Why does this work and how can it help you?


Rhythm in writing acts as a beat does in music. The use of rhythm arises from the need to express some words more strongly than others. They might be stressed for a longer period. This produces a pattern or sequence.

Rhythm captivates and gives prose a musical effect. It is just as effective as metered poetry. 

  • Do you not feel the water’s pull as you read each line?
  • Are your senses not immersed and calmed by the pull of the tide?  

Do you want to capture an essence of a feeling but are stuck by the limits of meter?

Clear away the clutter of extemporaneous words. Think in pictures instead of words. Think in terms of senses. By doing this you will find your rhythm. 


Example: Onomatopoeia and Internal Rhyme.

THE THINGITY-JIG

By Kathleen Doherty

Art by Kristyna Litton

THE THINGITY-JIG


One night, under the light of the silvery moon,

all of Bear’s friends were deep asleep.

The Bear- wasn't sleepy he wanted to play.

So he wandered off to find some fun in people town.

Tap.

Poke.

Sniff.

Bare nosed around until he found...

It looked friendly.

Bear plopped down on its lap.

Bingity.

Bing.

Boing!

The Thingity-jig was a springy thing.

A bouncy thing.

A sit-on-it, hop-on-it,

jump-on-it thing.

Bear hurried home to tell his friends.

.  

Why does this work and how can it help you?


Onomatopoeia creates a sound that mimics the effect. It makes the description more expressive and interesting.

For instance, we could say she fell asleep. Or we could simply write: “Zzzzzz.“


This makes the descriptions livelier and more interesting, appealing directly to the senses of the reader. Onomatopoeia helps the reader enter the world created. 


Internal rhyme is rhyme that occurs in the middle of lines of poetry, instead of at the ends of lines. A single line of poetry can contain internal rhyme (with multiple words in the same line rhyming), or the rhyming words can occur across multiple lines.


Internal rhymes can appear in any type of poetry or prose. It gives you freedom to tell your story. It makes your manuscript musical. A manuscript that is fun to read will always stand out and rise above.


Do you have a good story but it needs something? Why not give onomatopoeia and internal rhyme a try. See if it doesn't take it up a notch. 



Example: Diction

COULD I PLEASE …

HAVE A DOG  

 by Marshall Silverman

illustrated by Ida Osterman  

Well, Mon/day was/ a blu/rry fuzz; -/-/-/-/

It left/ me in/ a fog.-/-/-/

+Sore/ and sad,/ I asked/ my dad, +/-/-/-/

Could I/ please have/ a dog? -/-/-/



A dog/gy pup/ would cheer/ me up, -/-/-/-/

Just like/ an an/ti dote. -/-/-/

I had/ a fish./ His name/ was splish. -/-/-/-/

And all/ he did/ was float. -/-/-/ 


Why does this work and how can it help you?


Diction, or choice of words, can elevate your story from average to excellent. It will mean the difference between getting passed over to noticed.


Writers choose words to create a mood, tone, atmosphere.


And when used with humor it makes you sit up and pay attention.  

  • Did you notice the internal rhymes?
  • Did you notice the assonance?
  • Did you notice the alliteration? 

These pepper the story throughout.


Why not take some time and look for the unusual word choice? With picture books we are limited in our word count. Why use up valuable real estate with average words. Use strong language choices to make strong images.  



Example: Cumulative Story Structure

THIS IS THE MESS THAT WE MADE

by Michelle Lord art by art by Julia Blattman

This is the mess that we made.

These are the fish that swim in the mess that we made.

This is the seal that eats the fish that swim in the mess that we made.

This is the net that catches the seal, that eats the fish that swim in the mess that we made.

This is the boat of welded steel, that dumps the net, that catches the seal, that eats the fish that swim in the mess that we made.

Why does this work and how can it help you?


A Cumulative Story is a story that builds on a pattern. It starts with one person, place, thing, or event. Each time a new person,

place, thing, or event is shown, all the previous ones are repeated.


Each event reinforces the initiating problem of the story and a new attempt at solving it. It helps children to think of different solutions.

  • Did you notice the problem, initiating event, character intentions and desires, and moral are there?
  • This is fun because children soon pick up on the refrain and increase their own vocabulary.
  • Did you notice how each event adds momentum? Thereby increasing tension?


Example: Caesura

POEM IN MY POCKET

by Chris Tougas  art Jose'e Bisaillon

​​I had/ a po/em in/ my pock/et, -/-/-/-/-

+but/ my pock/et got/ a rip. +/-/-/-/

Rhymes tumbl/ed down/ my leg, -/-/-/

and trickl/ed from/ my hip. -/-/-/

+Slip/ping, slid/ing, dip/ping, div/ing, +/-/-/-/-

+rhyt/hms hit/ the ground. + Then... +/-/-/+ /

A whirl/ing, twirl/ing, swirl/ng wind -/-/-/-/

Blew all/ my rhymes/ a round. -/-/-/ 

Why does this work and how can it help you?


Everyone speaks, and everyone breathes while speaking. Poetry also uses pauses in its lines.


One such pause is known as “caesura,” a rhythmical pause in a poetic line. Though it can occur in the middle of a line, or sometimes at the beginning and the end. At times, it occurs with punctuation; at other times it does not.  


  • Did you notice the caesura in the second line of the second stanza?
  • Did you notice how this caused you to pause?
  • Did you notice the expectation this created? 

It can create drama, enhance momentum and complexity. Make your poem stand out by means of a caesura. 


Example: Repetition​

SOMETIMES RAIN

by Meg Fleming

Illustrations by Diana Sudyka  

​​Some times/ driz zle. /-/-

Drip drip/ drain. / / /+

Some times/ pic nic. /-/-

Some times/ rain. /-/+

Some times/ drop ping. /-/-

Stead y,/ chill. /-/+

Some times/ frost ing /-/-

E very/ Hill. /-/

Why does this work and how can it help you?


One of the fundamentals of poetry is the recurrence of sounds, syllables, words, phrases, lines, and stanzas. Repetition can be an intoxicating feature of poetry. It creates expectations, it can arouse emotions, memories, incite enchantment and inspire bliss.

Repetition in poetry is a technique of repeating different words or phrases. Repetition creates structure within a poem. It helps readers focus on a specific thought or emotion.

Repetition can occur at any point in the poem.

  • Did you notice that this is a list poem?
  • Did you notice how these repetitions are of contrasts and similarities.
  • Did you notice how these repetitions can tweak our view?

If you want to write a poem with repetition, first think about the point you want to get across. What is the part you want your readers to focus on? Then plan on how you can incorporate a repeated word, phrase, line, or stanza into your poem.


Example: Lyrical Prose

THE NIGHT IS FOR DARKNESS

by Johnathan Stutzman art Joseph Kuefler

​​The night/ is for dark/ness. -/--/-

And bright gold/en beams. --/-/

For dis cov/er ing eyes --/--/

are not/ what they seem. -/--/

Why does this work and how can it help you?


This book is a concept book. With the added hook of being lyrical poetry. Concept books can open a window, help children to see beyond the ordinary. It allows for a fresh look at a familiar view.  

  • Did you notice that this is written in metered form, but there are no end rhymes?
  • Did you notice that this concept poem is written like an essay?
  • The first sentence states the topic.
  • The following sentences describe this topic.
  • It allows for images in the mind and use of the senses.  

Because the child soon begins to recognize a pattern, a concept book also helps a child to develop memory. When brains are enjoyably engaged, learning becomes a pleasure. 

See if you can take one of your worn out and rejected manuscripts and give it a different dimension. Turn it into a concept story. 


Example: Breaking the fourth wall by means of the aside.

THE LYING KING

by Alex Beard

There once/ was a king -/--/

who liked/ to tell lies.-/--/

He said/ it was day -/--/

Beneath/ the skies. -/-/

“Good Morning."

Why does this work and how can it help you?


Image a stage, where the actor stops and speaks directly to the audience. The invisible wall that separates the audience from the actor is the fourth wall.


An aside is but one way to break the fourth wall. But why would we want to do that in our writing? What are the benefits?

In story picture books with a character arc, you must have emotional resonance. This is the most difficult part of writing a picture book. It is made more challenging when trying to do so in rhyme.


The aside achieves this by speaking to the reader. The aside can communicate important information and makes the reader a confidante.


  • Did you notice that the aside does not need to rhyme?

  • Did you notice that The Lying King is expressing his emotions to the reader?
  • Did you notice how this technique pulls the reader into the experience?


Example: Rhyming Story Books

PIRATE NELL'S TALE TO TELL

By  Helen Docherty art by Thomas Docherty

The day/ Nell joined/ the pi/rate crew -/-/-/-/

was full/ of hope;/ a dream/ come true! -/-/-/-/


For great/ ad ven/tures filled/ her head -/-/-/-/

from ev/er y tale/ she’d e/ver read. -/--/-/-/


Nell won/dered what/ she ought/ to pack. -/-/-/-/

Of course!/ Her pi/rate’s al/ma nac. -/-/-/-/


It taught/ her all/ she’d need/ to know -/-/-/-/

from how/ to steer/ to how/ to row; -/-/-/-/


Which way/ was east/ and which/ was west... -/-/-/-/

But Capt/ain Gnash/ was not/ im pressed. -/-/-/-/

Why does this work and how can it help you?


Often picture book writers are told NOT to rhyme. Agreed, there are challenges to overcome. Challenges like: Is the story serving the rhyme, or is the rhyme serving the story. Are we losing the plot, tension and character arc in the process?

Do not lose heart for these challenges can be overcome.

Here are the "W" questions every story needs to ask.

  • Who is the main character?
  • Where is the story taking place?
  • What does the main character want?
  • Why does the main character want this?

Let’s see how these questions are answered with this story.


  • Who-Nell
  • Where- A pirate ship
  • Wants- To be a pirate
  • Why- For great adventure

Nell wants to have great adventures. To achieve her goal, she decides to join a pirate ship. We learn a bit about her character when she brings her almanac. But she is met with one large obstacle in the form of Captain Gnash. All these questions are answered within the first 69 words.


And we want to continue reading, do we not?


So, in the spirit of Nell, I say forge ahead! Don’t let anyone stop you. Write your story in rhyme. Make you character memorable and multi-dimensional. Answer all of the "W" questions in the first few paragraphs.


If someone tells you it is a hard sell to write a certain type of book, maybe it’s because they haven't seen YOUR book yet!


Example: Hypercatalectic/catalectic

WAYS TO WELCOME

By Linda Ashman art by Joey Chou

Waves and / shakes +/-/

And/ hel/los +/-/ 

Eye to /eye +/-/

And nose/ to nose. -/-/

Sooth ing/ words +/-/

An ex/pert guide -/-/

Step/ by step +/-/

And side/ by side. -/-/

Why does this work and how can it help you?


When it comes to rhythmical poetry we only count hard beats.


Poets have a variety of tools at their disposal. One of which is rhythm. Poetry is an art form where each word is weighed and measured. It can set a tone, spur emotions, make ideas memorable and create music.

Hypercatalectic is when a soft beat is added. Catalectic is when a soft beat is subtracted. Notice how this is done in the poem above.


I have scanned it as iambic/dimeter. That means the first syllable has a hard beat followed by a soft beat. Each line has two hard beats.


  • Did you notice that the first line in the first stanza is missing a soft beat at the end? That is catalectic.
  • Did you notice that the last line in each stanza has an added soft beat added at the beginning of the line? That is hypercatalectic.
  • Important to note is usually no more than two hypercatalectic/catalectic beats per line. Otherwise the poem loses its musicality.

When we introduce children to the music of reading, it becomes a pleasure. They will go on to read chapter books, novels and textbooks.


Sometimes the picture book or poem in your hands is the first step to a thoughtful, educated and well-read adult.

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