VERSE and CHORUS


Most popular songs—traditional ballad to pop—share the same pattern.  Verse-Chorus.  Verse-Chorus.  The verses may share a single narrative or be individual pieces that share a link with the chorus.  Like the cumulative narrative, this format creates a blend of expansion balanced with familiarity.  It is the soon familiar chorus that gives children a sense of inclusion and mastery.

Picture book choruses may be as short as one line.  I CAN DO IT TOO by Karen Baicker is a list of what other family members are able to do followed by the young narrator’s proclamation, “I can do it too!” Like the best of songs, Baicker’s final verse expands on the accumulated and reveals a sense of change.  Followed, of course, with the satisfaction of a final round of the chorus.

Liz Garton Scanlon’s ALL THE WORLD is another fine example of the verse-chorus pattern.  But here is the chorus is woven into the final line of each verse.

“Body, shoulder, arm, hand

A moat to dig,

A shell to keep

All the world is wide and deep”

Scanlon’s verses are truly in verse.  Yet, by beginning each verse’s final line with “all the world is” she is able to maintain the sounds of her rhythm and rhyme AND share a sense of chorus.

KITTEN’S FIRST FULL MOON by Kevin Henkes follows a more traditional story pattern of BEGINNING-MIDDLE-END.  But he uses a repetitive chorus to deepen Kitten’s dilemma and frustration.  After each of Kitten’s failed attempts to consume the milky moon Henkes writes:

“Poor Kitten! Still, there was the little bowl of milk, just waiting.”

After two more tries at the moon and the chorus, the mission shifts to the bigger bowl of milk reflecting in the pond.  Even though the story is no longer concerned with the “little bowl of milk, just waiting” in the sky, a portion of the familiar chorus returns:

“Poor Kitten!”

Henkes establishes the pattern of chorus so well that he is able to reduce his chorus to a single word.  Then give it a twist, and we still feel the satisfaction of a chorus and its final chord.

“Lucky Kitten!”

The picture books by Charlotte Pomerantz reveal her sense of poetry, language, and play. THE PIGGY IN THE PUDDLE demonstrates even wider variations in the way writers can use verse-chorus in picture books. The typical chorus always contains the same words each time it is song or read.  Pomerantz isn’t as concerned for repetition of specific words as for the similarity of rhythm and style.  Her choruses are not identical, yet deeply related.

The story focuses on family members trying to coax a pig to get out of the muddy puddle.  To no surprise, the little pig will have nothing of it.

“Squishy-squashing, squishy-squash—NOPE!”

“Moosy-squooshy, mooshy-squooshy—NOPE!”

“Oofy-poofy, oofy-poofy—NOPE!”

The second half of the story shifts to the theme “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” which develops a new chorus that follows each family members’ action.

She said, “I bet my feet get wet.”

And—jumped—in—too!

He said, “I bet my tail gets wet.”

And—jumped—in—too!

He held his nose and yelled, “Here goes!”

And—jumped—in—too!

The text could have ended there, but Pomerantz knows the visceral satisfaction of pulling the rhythms of the story back to its beginning.  When the little piggy proposes soap and getting clean the rest of her family now happily in the muddy puddle proclaim: “Oofy-poofy—NOPE!”

Children have no need to be able to identity the writing terms for this awareness and use of pattern.  But they feel it.  It IS part of the story.  Our use of sound and pattern enhance and enrich our stories.

Sample Picture Books

ALL THE WORLD by Liz Garton Scanlon. Illus. by Marla Frazee, Beach Lane Books, 2009.

I CAN DO IT TOO! by Karen Baicker.  Illus. by Ken Wilson-Max.  Handprint, 2003.

KITTEN’S FIRST FULL MOON by Kevin Henkes. Greenwillow, 2004.

OVERBOARD by Sarah Weeks. Illus. by Sam Williams, Harcourt, 2006.

THE PIGGY IN THE PUDDLE by Charlotte Pomerantz. Illus.by James Marshall, Simon & Schuster, 1974.

PILOT PUPS by Michelle Meadows. Illus. by Dan Andreasen.  Simon & Schuster, 2008.

RAIN MAKES APPLESAUCE by Julian Scheer.  Illus. by Marvin Bileck.  Holiday, 1964.

SAKES ALIVE! A CATTLE DRIVE by Karma Wilson. Illus. by Karla Firehammer. Little Brown, 2005.

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