Blending Rhythms & Patterns

Much like musicians, dancers, painters and architects, picture book authors are able to blend and contrast patterns to enhance their art. And, as a result, deepen the experience of the audience. The trick or the art is to blend patterns in a way that contributes to the story rather than causing confusion.

One of Karla Kuskin’s early books, JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE, is a solid place to start.  Her text establishes a pattern of verse and chorus.

Jonathan James
had two eyes,
ten fingers,
and a small nose.
Just like everyone else.
Jonathan James
lived in a noisy house
on a quiet street.
Just like everyone else.
This pattern is also a form of the ping-pong rhythm.  It builds comfort and expectation. After the final cycle of verse and chorus:
Just like everyone else.
After twelve cycles of this pattern Kuskin transforms her text into a steady-stead-steady-surprise pattern.

Then Jonathan James flew off to school.

Candace Fleming’s wonderful MUNCHA MUNCHA! MUNCHA! blends even more patterns to great effect. She includes a cumulative pattern, but in a fresh way because her cumulative pattern is also the expanding chorus of her verse and chorus pattern. She also uses the ping-pong pattern of trial and failure. Then, once she’s set up all these patterns of expectation, she reveals her text to “steady-steady-steady-SURPRISE!”

The plot is succinct.  Mr. McGreely plants a garden.  Rabbits invade.  He gets angry and builds a fence, then a wall, then a moat, then a locked fortress around his garden. And with each new protective measure the chorus of rabbits’ action expands.

Tippy-Tippy-Tippy-Pat! Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!

Next time around the pattern:

Tippy-tippy-tippy, Pat! Spring-hurdle, Dash! Dash! Dash! Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!

It is one of the few times I’ve seen a cumulative pattern expand within rather than at the end. Most important of all, it works by matching the action in the story.

After four repetitions of this cycle Fleming creates a long pause.


The rabbits cannot break through the newest and thickest defense. They cannot get themselves into the very protected garden. All seems well.  Mr. McGreely is happy. He takes his basket through all the barriers and into the garden.


The rabbits have sneaked into his basket, and HE has given them access to his garden.  And, as all good songs do, Fleming’s story ends with a rousing chorus.

Muncha! Muncha!  Muncha!

As you work on a picture book manuscript be mindful to what patterns seem to emerge naturally.  Patterns or rhythms that echo and evoke the emotional arc of your story. Play with interweaving a second pattern.  Trial and revision IS the writing process. Does a particular pattern add to the experience of the text, detract, or even interrupt?

Patterns and rhythms are some of the most vital items in our picture book author toolbox. Dig in.  Play. Who knows what your next creation could be!


Sample Books Using Blended Patterns


BARK, GEORGE by Jules Feiffer.  Harper, 1999.
CLOSE YOUR EYES by Kat Banks. Illus. by Georg Hallesnsleben. Farra, 2002.
JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE by Karla Kuskin. Harper, 1959.
MUNCHA MUNCHA MUNCHA by Candace Fleming. Illus. by G. Brian Karas. Atheneum, 2002.
POUCH! By David Ezra Stein.  Putnam, 2009.
WHOSE MOUSE ARE YOU? By Robert Kraus.  Illus. by Jose Aruego.  Simon & Schuster, 1970.