Most of us grew up listening to Mother Goose rhymes like Jack and Jill:
Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water
Jack fell down and broke his crown
And Jill came tumbling after.
We also loved hearing stories like Goodnight Moon:
In the great green room there was a telephone and a red balloon
and a picture of the cow jumping over the moon.
And those of you who work with kids know that young children LOVE rhyming books.
So, why do agents and editors caution authors NOT to write in rhyme? The last time I looked, there were LOTS of new rhyming stories on bookstore and library shelves. Obviously, publishers are buying them.
There are TWO main reasons why editors discourage writers from writing in rhyme.
The first is that it is difficult to translate rhyme into other languages and if an editor is looking to acquire world rights and publish a book in other languages for other countries, prose is much easier.
The second, more important reason, is that there is a lot of BAD rhyme going around. Writing a picture book in rhyme is more than just making sure the last word in each line rhymes. Here’s a list of nine rhyme crime examples:
1. Too simple or cliché.
The mouse is small.
The man is tall.
He throws a ball.
And that is all.
2. Frivolous or forced, which means if you didn’t need that particular word to make the rhyme, you wouldn’t have used it.
I went to visit Henny Penny
She is my friend, just like Jack Benny. (doesn’t make sense unless your story is about Jack Benny)
3. Inverted speech:
I hop around on my left foot.
And on my head my hat I put.
4. Seussian rhymes…which isn’t to say you can’t make up words, but they’d better be part of an amazing story because your manuscript will be compared to the master of invented words, Dr. Seuss.
The tiger is loose
He rides a caboose
And shares a cage with a young falla-noose.
5. Near-rhymes. You might be able to get away with one if the rest of the manuscript is perfect in every other way. And yes, I know there are published books out there with lots of near rhymes.
Down the road we both did amble
In my hand I held a candle.
6. Regional rhymes. This is a big problem because depending on where you live (in the U.S. for instance), people pronounce words differently. For example, in Boston ‘park’ is pronounced ‘pack’.
I put the car into park
And picked up my sack.
So, someone in Boston will read that as a rhyme, but in Florida, maybe not so much.
7. Poor rhythm. Rhythm is an important element in anything that needs to be read aloud, even a political speech. Picture books, especially, need to have pleasing rhythm, whether they are prose or poetry.
Rain, rain, go away
Come again some other day.
That sounds fine, right? But how about:
Rain, rain, go away
Don’t come on February 11th which is my birthday.
There are way too many beats in the second line…if they are couplets, each line has to mirror the matching line in stressed beats. What are couplets and stressed beats, you ask? Well, that’s a whole other blog post. 😊
8. Unnatural stress. When we speak or read aloud, each word in the sentence is stressed or not. When we want things to rhyme, sometimes we purposely read in a way that isn’t natural. But our readers won’t know what we had in mind. I’ve put in bold the syllables that should be stressed. Even though ‘slide’ and ‘side’ rhyme, the stress for those words is on the first syllable and ‘land’ and ‘lake’ don’t rhyme.
There's a landslide
By the lakeside
9. Using the same word.
I saw the ship had run aground
While masts and sail lay on the ground.
What should you do if you love to write in rhyme?
Here’s an excerpt from the refrain:
Quiver, quaver, shiver, shake.
Cats make Pippa cringe and quake.
Take heart…rhyming picture books are getting out into the world. Just make sure you write a great story that has an opening that hooks the reader, a plot that is well-paced, characters the reader can connect to, a satisfying ending…and, oh yes, please avoid the nine rhyme crimes.
Vivian Kirkfield has paved her career path with picture books. From shelving them when she worked at a children’s library during her college years, to reading them with her students when she taught kindergarten, her goal has always been to help kids become lovers of books and reading. She is the author of Pippa’s Passover Plate (Holiday House, Feb 2019)); Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book (Pomegranate Press, March 2019); Sweet Dreams, Sarah (Creston Books, May, 2019); Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Spring 2020); and From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves (Fall 2020). Vivian lives in the quaint New England village of Amherst, New Hampshire where the old stone library is her favorite hangout and her young grandson is her favorite board game partner. You can visit her website at Picture Books Help Kids Soar where she reviews picture books, interviews authors, and hosts the #50PreciousWords Challenge for writers.
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