It’s easy to rhyme. It’s really easy to rhyme badly. It’s nearly impossible to rhyme beautifully.
If you have a brilliant idea and think you should write it in rhyme, attempt to talk yourself out of it. I am not trying to tell you not to rhyme because I think you are incapable. I know you are. Rhyming is easy—kindergarteners do it. What is difficult about a rhyming picture book is the meter. How’s that for earth shattering paradigm shifting news? Rhyme is easy, meter is hard. But, think about picture books—it’s not enough that you can read it out loud. It has to be read out loud by a stranger without you saying in his ear, “no, the accent goes on that word/syllable…” A rhymed picture book has absolutely no wiggle room. It has to be spot-on, letter-perfect brilliant-- or it fails completely.
Ask yourself these questions:
· Can this story be told without rhyme? Can it be told just as effectively—or more so—in prose?
· Will it benefit from having the space to breathe on its own?
· Are you moving the plot around just to accommodate the rhyme-- will its voice be better off without using the rhyming words? Are those words cumbersome to the story?
· Is the rhyme a crutch holding up a story unable to stand on its own? Is it too slight?
Now, try writing your story in prose.
If you choose rhyme, then it is your obligation to make sure the rhyme and the story are balanced.
· Figure out which parts of the story are only there to serve the rhyme.
· Never mangle your sentences to fit the rhyme.
· Don’t try to squeeze your story into a rhyming format.
· Choose your words as carefully as you would in a non-rhyming picture book. It’s not ok to use we, see, tree, and with glee at the end of half the lines of a book.
· Making up a word is fun sometimes. But remember, there was only one Dr. Seuss.
· Do not set yourself up with a complicated rhyme scheme that you can’t carry it throughout.
· Your story, not the rhyme, needs to be primary.
Jamberry by Bruce Degan: Delicious word play make this book one-of-a-kind.
“Clickberry! Clackberry! Pick me a blackberry!”
Circus Train by Jennifer Cole Judd, illustrated by Melanie Matthews: Deceptively simple, with perfect rhymes that are never the same old ordinary expected ones. The beginning and end are the same which gives it a perfect arc and I dare you to read it aloud without escalating your voice as the circus gets into full swing.
“Elephants dancing. Poodles prancing. Tumbling, twirling, flags unfurling.”
Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld: This shows you what you can do with very few words in a rhyming concept book. Often with only one or two words on a page this is a study in ‘less is more.’
“Stick. Stone. Lonely. Alone. A zero. A one. Alone is no fun.”
The Library by Sarah Stewart, illustrated by David Small: This is a longer story text which relies on a bouncy rhyme that could go wrong at any moment because of its length, but never does.
“Elizabeth Brown entered the world, dropping straight down from the sky. Elizabeth Brown entered the world, skinny, nearsighted, and shy.”
Jessie Bear What Will You Wear by Nancy White Carlstrom, illustrated by Bruce Degan: Fun and word-perfect with a great repeating refrain that breaks up the rhyme.
“I’ll wear my pants, My pants that dance, My pants that dance in the morning.”
Water Is Water by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Jason Chin: This text contains both internal and end-of-line rhymes. Line breaks and page turns brilliantly inform the read aloud.
“Whirl. Swirl. Watch it curl by. Steam is steam unless… it cools high.”
An Invitation tothe Butterfly Ball by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Jane Breskin Zalben: sets up the rhyme scheme right up front and delivers on it on every page. The child listener will know the refrain by page three and be able to ‘read’ along.
“Knock. Knock. Who’s come to call? An invitation to the Butterfly Ball. One little mouse in great distress, looks all over for a floor length dress. If she can’t find one smaller than small, then she can’t go to the Butterfly Ball.”
How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Mark Teague: Simple and short with obvious kid-friendly rhymes that allow for the child listener to guess the next word or line:
“Does a dinosaur stomp his feet on the floor/ and shout, ‘I want to hear one book more!’ Does a dinosaur ROAR?”
Additionally, here are brilliant examples of books that could have easily been written in rhyme but found their own amazing voice without it:
Vampirina Ballerina by Anne Marie Pace, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Maya Was Grumpy by Courtney Pippen-Mathur
Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian, illustrated by Mike Curato
Heidi is giving away one of her books OR a picture book critique at the conclusion of ReFoReMo! To be eligible, please comment on this post and make efforts to read mentor text regularly.
Heidi didn’t want to be a writer when she grew up. In fact, after she graduated from college, she became a probation officer in Florida. It wasn’t until she was 28 years old that she gave in and joined the family business, publishing her first short story in a book called Famous Writers and Their Kids Write Spooky Stories. The famous writer was her mom, author Jane Yolen. Since then, she has published more than twenty books and numerous short stories and poems, mostly for children. Some of those books are rhyming picture books including You Nest Here With Me, Pretty Princess Pig, and Not All Princesses Dress In Pink. Heidi and her mom both live on a big old farm with two houses, three barns, a couple cats, and a whole lot of books.