Friday, January 20, 2012

Focus Friday: RHYME (and perfect picture books)

It scares some writers.  
Others can't write without it.  
If it's good, it's brilliant.  
Anything less than perfect, the whole story's shot.
What is it?


I edit and critique a lot of rhyming stories and picture books as a freelancer and a judge at Rate Your Story (which aren't always the greatest). a mom and rhyme-lover I read a lot of excellent rhyming books, too.  

I've worked on the craft of rhyming for years, and thus wanted to share with you a Perfect Picture Book written in rhyme and some of the most common weaknesses I see when freelance editing rhyme.

1) The rhyming words are too simple and/or uncreative, or too predictable.
Stop rhyming me and bee.  Rhyme trout and stout, or pickle and fickle.  

2) The second line (or fourth line) of a stanza is just a means to get a rhyme and doesn't add to the story.
Stop forcing your rhyme. If you can't find a good rhyme, "kill your darling" and write a new first line that ends with a different word.  Put the tough-to-rhyme words in the middle if you have to.

3) The syntax is inverted to force a rhyme.
See above.  What writers could publish 50 years ago probably won't land you a contract today.   Which brings me to number #4.

4) The author doesn't read many recently-published rhyming picture books.
Pick up a book by Karma Wilson, Jill Esbaum, Marsha Wilson Chall, Lisa Wheeler, Lori Degman, or ask your librarian to recommend some great books in rhyme published in the last 5-10 years.

5) The author doesn't know how to scan their own poetry.
Do you know what meter is? A foot?  An iamb? (I could go on).  A stanza where the first line is 21 syllables and the second is 8, the third is 17 and the last is 11 won't work (this is an actual example of something I once edited).

6) In their head, the rhythm is perfect.  But no one else has read it ALOUD.
Have others read it aloud to you.  Don't interrupt.  Don't read it to them first.  Don't let them read it on paper before the read-aloud.  Repeat process many times with many readers.

7) The author doesn't listen to the reason of their critique group/editor/etc. regarding rhyme.
Critique group members may seem too nit-picky sometimes.  So can editors (trust me, I'm my own pickiest editor).  But remember - they're all trying to help you!  They're on your side.  Whether free or hired, they're trying to hold you back from submitting or self-publishing rhymes that are not brilliant.  You want brilliant.

More tips here and here and here.

Now, on to Perfect Picture Book Friday.

You've guessed it...a rhyming picture book!

Title:  Animal Strike at the Zoo (It's True!)
Author:  Karma Wilson
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2006
Illustrator:  Margaret Spengler
Genre: Fiction, Rhyme
Ages: 2-8
Themes: Labor, Strike, Animals, Humor, Zoo, Duty

First Page (though every page gets better): There’s an animal strike at the zoo, it’s true!  / The headlines are telling it all.  / The animals quit, “That’s it! We’re through.” / Say all critters from biggest to small.

Why I chose it:  The rhyme is perfect, the story is funny and thoughtful and it actually introduces a topic that a teacher or mother can use as a segue to nonfiction (labor strikes have been a big issue in my home state of Wisconsin for the past year).

What is Perfect Picture Book Friday?  Read more at Susanna Hill's Blog.

 Comments Welcome: Are you a rhyme-writer?  A rhyme-reader?  Did you love this book? Got rhyming tips to share?  Comments are open below.


Patricia T. said...

I love Karma Wilson's book. Have heard of this one, but haven't read it. Can imagine that children would love the book as it sounds very funny. And, it teaches. Great selection.

Miranda Paul said...

Thanks for stopping by, Patricia! Yes, Karma Wilson is one of my favorite rhymers.

Susanna Leonard Hill said...

Great post on rhyme - very helpful! And this looks like a really fun book. Of course, I am partial to zoo stories ever since Good Night Gorilla :) The resources look fun too. Thanks for sharing :)

Joanna said...

I so appreciated your input on rhyme. Today I was revising a PB I wrote in rhyme, after getting it bak from a second critique group, with some very thoughtful critique. I especially liked your #1.

I love Karma's work. LOVE IT! But haven't read this one. I actually took out one of Karma's books today and wrote it out, simply to get a different feel for her flawless rhyme. Thanks for sharing Animal Strike at the Zoo.

Beth Stilborn said...

I love poetry, but I'm not keen on rhyming picture books (go figure). However, this one sounds delightful, and I also like that it would be a good lead in to talking with kids about strikes and unions and job actions -- very timely stuff.

Your words about rhyme are excellent. Everyone who attempts to write a rhyming picture book should read and re-read your list. Thank you.

Cheryl Velasquez said...

Thank you so much for this post. I love to write in rhyme but I'm still learning. This was very informative and I love Karma Wilson too!

patientdreamer said...

What a lovely bright cheerful book. Great choice! Also enjoy reading your very informative blog, posts.

Natalie said...

I am definitely a rhyme-writer and I agree that Karma Wilson is truly a master at the craft.

Great choice! :)

Melissa Mead said...

Thanks for this post Miranda! I'm working on exactly this. I wanted to "check" it for any glaring flaws but wasn't exactly sure where to start. YOU put my finger on it! Thank you.

Stacy S. Jensen said...

Enjoyed your tips and this book selection. My son and I haven't read this one yet. I enjoy reading rhyme. If it's perfect, well, it's magically. I can't write it — I live no. 5. I'm working to learn this point though. Until then, my rhyming work will stay on my computer's desktop.

Catherine Johnson said...

Great tips. I avoid rhyme but it follows me everywhere ;)

That book looks fab, I've got a Karma Wilson at the moment. I'll look out for that one, the colours are lovely. Thanks!

JoDee Luna said...

I found you via Kelly's blogging award pass on. What a delightful website you have. Well done!

Unknown said...

Good tips, and I love the lead in to discussing unions, strikes, and worker rights. Thanks for sharing.

I spent a lot of time reading picture books as market research last summer. I didn't find many new rhyming ones, but one I did like was Lee Fox's "Ella Kazoo Will NOT Brush Her Hair." I remember both the rhythm and the rhyme being well-crafted, and the story was fun to read.

JenFW said...

Excellent tips on rhyming. I wish picture books weren't geared so young these days. In fact, I wish picture books were published for all ages. Really. They're art, and art is for all ages. I think we'd see some marvelously funny and astute stories, rhyming, and illustrations if we expanded the pb age range.

Marcie Colleen said...

Great post on rhyme. I will definitely share this with others.

This Kid Reviews Books said...

I REALLY like the cover illustration! The colors are great. I am trying to learn how to write rhymes. Do you have any tips for children? Thanks :)

Vivian Kirkfield said...

You must have ESP! The PB draft I am working on for the 12x12 challenge is...rhyming! I really appreciate your clear and simple tips on what to write (or what NOT to write).

Your selection for PPBF looks inviting and engaging...and as I use picture books for my programs, I'm always happy to find ones with powerful messages. I'll definitely try to find this one. Thank you!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the rhyming advice Miranda. I write in rhyme and I love reading children's books in rhyme. Can't get enough of it. Your post really helped me today!

I'm a big Kamara Fan and will be looking out for this book! :)

Darshana said...

I really enjoyed your input on rhyme. It's one I will need to save. Also never heard of this book. Will add it to my list.

I look forward to following your blog.

Miranda Paul said...

Wow - look what a weekend without technology does to me! I will do my best to respond to all!

@Susanna - I will have to check out Good Night, Gorilla!

@Joanna - Isn't it funny how a critique group can really make your rhyme better than you ever imagined (by pointing out the things you're reading differently in your head?)

@Beth - It's good to know your own preference. I've edited for many clients who don't love rhyme, but write using it anyway! I tell them that kids' books don't have to rhyme.

@Cheryl - good luck in your quest to learn more about rhyme! There are a lot of great kidlit bloggers out there with helpful resources. And try your hand at my writing contest - the Mix-it-Up one!

@patientdreamer - Glad you enjoy the blog posts! I've just learned so much over the past few years and wanted to share. Hope it helps!

@Natalie - well said!

@Melissa - glad to be of service! I've written many rhyming stories I thought were good...but years later, they're so much better!

@Stacy - Too funny. But I'm glad you pointed out that you love to READ rhyme. Not everyone is good at reading rhyme, either! But if you like the spoken word, it's easy to garner an appreciation for rhyme that's done well.

@Catherine - yes, the colors are so vibrant in this book!

@JoDee- Thanks!

@Ellen - I will have to check out "Ella Kazoo Will NOT Brush Her Hair."

@JenFW - I am all on your side. Let's make it happen...what next? :)

@Marcie - Welcome and thanks for sharing!!

@Erik - Hi! Tips for children? Read a lot of rhyming books. Shel Silverstein is a great place to start, though I have a feeling you've already read lots of his stuff. So re-read! And write, write, write! You can write songs too if you're musical. That will help you. Try using an existing tune and changing the words.

@Vivian - yay, a 12x12er! Perhaps we should all form a crit. group at the end of the year (or before). In the mean time, you can use Rate Your Story to get a free crit!

@Jennifer - Glad it helped. It's an older one of Karma's, but a goodie!

@Darshana - Glad you'll be saving this post! And feel free to follow if you're not already - you can also subscribe by email if you prefer to get my articles in your inbox.

Thanks, all! Now, don't forget to check out last Wednesday's post with a link to my writing contest! Hoping for lots of entries!!!

Renee LaTulippe said...

Hey, Miranda! I'm late on my rounds again, but had to stop in because I wrote about a Karma Wilson book this week, too! As a lifelong rhymer myself, I have a deep appreciation for Karma's craft...she's really, really good. I haven't read this one, but I suspect I'll have all her books before long. Nice rhyme tips, too! :)

Kelly Hashway said...

Strike at the Zoo is such a great book. My daughter loves it!

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Rhyme sure is tricky!
Thanks for this post, and for participating in the 2012 Comment Challenge!
Keep on commenting,

MotherReader said...

Thank you! I see way too many rhyming books that just aren't good and for all these reasons. This post should be a must-read for all potential picture book writers.

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