Archives for posts with tag: Karma Wilson

Rhyme & Writing in Verse

If new picture books in verse continue to be published each year why do so many people caution against writing in rhyme?  Simple. It is very easy to do it badly. Writing in rhyme does nothing to guarantee the quality of a children’s story any more than giving characters cute names like Caroline Camel does. Rhyme must support and serve the content.

Like the best song lyrics, rhyme in picture books is usually best if it is felt more than noticed. In terms of “writing to be heard” the use of rhyme functions as an aural-mini chorus. It brings the reader/audience back to a sense of the familiar. If the use of rhyme enhances the flow or rhythm of the text it can evoke a visceral sense of connection and return. But if the requirement for rhyme contorts the text in order to find the next rhyming word needed to rhyme the process distracts your audience rather than engaging them in what you have to share.

Poet and picture book author Karla Kuskin was instinctively aware of this dilemma.

“I don’t think I ever considered writing THE PHILHARMONIC GETS DRESSED in verse, but I did try that for another book of mine, called JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE, but I found it was not working. The story of that book is a simple children’s joke. Verse wasn’t right for it because, as I eventually realized, it had to be told with a poker face, and the driving rhythm of the verse broke the mood and became intrusive.” (Leonard Marcus. WAYS OF TELLING).

Some picture books like SLEEPYTIME RHYME by Remy Charlip flow like a song thanks to rhyme. Rhyme contributes to the flow and the enveloping theme of the text:

…I LOVE

YOUR HANDS,

YOUR TEETH,

YOUR NOSE,

YOUR ANKLES,

FEET,

AND ALL

TEN TOES.

I LOVE

YOUR WEST,

YOUR EAST,

YOUR CHEST.

IT’S HARD

TO SAY

WHAT I

LOVE BEST…

Charlip’s rhyme pattern is regular, but not tight. A constant series of back-to-back couplets would have begun sounding more like marching feet that a lullaby.

Another type of song-like picture book is the mini-essay or celebration of a single subject. Here a tighter rhyme scheme can contribute to the liveliness or festive feel of the text. Mary Ann Hoberman’s A HOUSE IS A HOUSE FOR ME is an excellent example. As a poet’s riff on what the word “house” might mean to different objects and creatures, Hoberman’s text is all play and exhilaration.

A writer who decides to tell a plotted story and tell it in rhyme is much like the juggler deciding to toss two more balls into the act.  The factor of difficulty dramatically increases, as do the opportunities for failure. It is also why picture book stories told in rhyme tend to be comedic adventures.

Deb Lund’s ALL ABOARD THE DINOTRAIN is a text that thrives with rhyming couplets (AABBCCDD…) because their steady rhythm evokes the sounds and feelings of the story’s content–a train ride. And not just any train ride, but an outlandish and outsized ride filled with dino-word-play.

The hill’s too steep for that much weight,

And so they toss the dinofreight.

Without a load, they quickly climb

And reach the peak in dinotime.

The less frenetic story, THE MILKMAN by Carol Foskett Cordsen, is also primarily written in couplets. But the pace is gentle and much quieter thanks to the author’s use of single words and short phrases to evoke the slow, early beats of morning.

First of morning, cold and dark.

Rooster crowing. Meadowlark.

Moon above the mountaintops.

Loud alarm clock. Snoring stops.

Mr. Plimpton out of bed.

The design of the book also contributes to the mood.  Most page turns come in the middle of a couplet and so slows the pace and literally creates the hush of morning.

The use of rhyme is not confined to couplets.  BARN DANCE by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault employs these three different yet related rhyme schemes in the course of their text.

AABB

AAA-BBCC

AAA

Using varied rhyme schemes can help avoid the rhymes overwhelming the story.  If use wisely, that is.  If done poorly, a mixture of rhyme schemes could contribute to confusion and distraction.

Once again, if one’s primary goal is to write in rhyme regardless of the subject it is very easy to write badly. Before you submit a rhyming manuscript test your choices.  Write a draft of the same content in plain prose.  What is lost?  What is gained?  How does using rhyme enhance and evoke what you want to say?

Sample Picture Books With Rhyme

ALL ABOARD THE DINOTRAIN by Deb Lund. Illus. by Howard Fine. Harcourt, 2006.

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

BARN DANCE by Bill Martin Jr. & John Archambault. Illus. by Ted Rand. Holt, 1986.

CHICK CHICKA BOOM BOOM by Bill Martin, Jr. & John Archambault.  Illus. by Lois Ehlert. Simon & Schuster, 1989.

COWBOY BUNNIES by Christine Loomis. Illus. by Ora Eitan. Putnam, 1997.

A HOUSE IS A HOUSE FOR ME by Mary Ann Hoberman. Illus. by Betty Fraser. Viking, 1989.

HOW DO YOU MAKE A BABY SMILE? by Philemon Sturges. Illus. Bridget Strevens-Marzo. Harper, 2007.

LITTLE BLUE TRUCK by Alice Schertle. Illus. by Jill McElmurry. Harcourt, 2008.

MARTHA THE MOVIE MOUSE by Arnold Lobel.  Harper, 1966.

THE MILKMAN by Carol Foskett Cordsen. Illus. by Douglas Jones. Dutton, 2005.

ONE MITTEN by Kristine O’Connell George. Illus. by Maggie Smith. Clarion, 2004.

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

SHOE BABY by Joyce Dunbar. Illus. by Polly Dunbar. Candelwick, 2005.

SLEEYTIME RHYME by Remy Charlip. Greenwillow, 1999.

SO, WHAT’S IT LIKE TO BE A CAT? By Karla Kuskin. Illus. by Betsy Lewin. Atheneum, 2005.

WHOSE GARDEN IS IT? By Mary Ann Hoberman. Illus. by Jane Dyer. Harcourt, 2004.

Sample Single Poems Turned into Picture Books

ARITHMETIC by Carl Sandburg. Illus. by Ted Rand. Harcourt, 1993.

CATS SLEEP ANYWHERE by Eleanor Farjeon. Illus. by Anne Mortimer. Frances Lincoln Books, 2010.

MORNNG HAS BROKEN by Eleanor Farjeon. Illus. by Tim Ladwig. Eerdmans, 1996.

UNDER MY HOOD I HAVE A HAT by Karla Kuskin. Illus by Fumi Kosaka. Harper, 2005.

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Sound Effects or Onomatopoeia

Like poets, children love the sound of words.  They also love the sounds of living. Walking through grass: Swishy swashy. Walking in mud: squelch squerch. Over the wooden bridge: trip trap trip trap. Dancing: swisha-swisha clap! clap! jump, jump, jump!

Such verbal sound effects can be found in all kinds of picture books. In Janet Wong’s BUZZ, the sound buzz in all its variations is the central thread of the text. The repetitive sound effects in Jonathan London’s FROGGY GETS DRESSED are a large part of the humor, and provide a cumulative element that let’s children join in the fun.

So Froggy put on his socks—zoop!

Pulled on his boots—zup!

Put on his hat—zat!

Tied on his scarf—zwit!

Tugged on his mittens—zum!!

And flopped outside into the snow—flop, flop, flop.

Karma Wilson uses a blend of sounds and verbs to evoke the ponderous dance moves of her hippo in HILDA MUST BE DANCING.  Wilson’s text evokes instead of merely telling. And, once again, the audience becomes more involved.

Though the use of onomatopoeia is most frequently found in poetry and story, it can play an equally valuable role in nonfiction picture books. The forthcoming PLANTING THE WILD GARDEN by Kathryn O. Galbraith celebrates the many ways seeds are transferred and planted in the wild. Her use of sound effects acts much like a visual close-up on the subtle action.

“Under the afternoon sun, the pods of the scotch broom grow hot and dry. Snap! Snap! Out pop their seeds, like popcorn from a pan.

They land here. And there. And snap! Over there, where they will have more room to grow.”

The primary considerations regarding sound effects are #1 Why are they being used? and #2 Do they contribute to the text or detract? In other words, do these sounds flow with the text or do they cause the audience to stumble. Are onomatopoetic words used throughout as style and voice, or only dropped in from time to distracting time.

Sound effects are also best when they are as understandable as the rest of the text. If the sound effect is unfamiliar or out of place it will pull the audience out of the story. Numerous cultures include onomatopoetic sounds/words as part of their folktales. Verna Aardema’s retellings of African tales often feature sound effects. Sometimes they flow with the story.  Other times they give one pause. Curiously, such retellings translate the story into English; yet leave the sound effects in the original language as a gesture of authenticity.  For instance, Aardema’s THIS FOR THAT includes:

Rabbit went off laughing softly to herself, huh, huh, huh.

And later–

She ate it herself, as fast as she could, yatua, yatua, yatua.

Huh huh huh is similar enough to ha ha ha or hee hee hee to make sense to the young North American audience.  But what is yatua, yatua, yatua? Onomatopoetic phrases deserve to be translated just like the rest of the text. In English DUCK says, “Quack, quack.” In Spanish DUCK is known as PATO and says, “Coo-ah Coo-ah!” In French DUCK is LE CANARD and says, “Kwang kwang!” An English language picture book having Duck say “Kwang kwang” would pull the audience out of the story as it struggles to figure out what is happening.

As with all the patterns, rhythms and sounds we use when “writing to be heard” the use of sound effects comes down to a single question: “Does it help engage the audience?”

Sample Books With Onomatopoeia

BUZZ by Janet Wong. Illus. by Margaret Chodos-Irvine. Harcourt, 2000.

FROGGY GETS DRESSED by Jonathan London. Illus. by Frank Remkiewicz. Viking, 1992.

THE HATSELLER AND THE MONKEYS retold and illustrated by Baba Wague Diakite. Scholastic, 1999

HILDA MUST BE DANCING by Karma Wilson. Illus. by Suzanne Watts. Simon & Schuster, 2004.

PLANTING THE WILD GARDEN by Kathryn O. Galbraith. Illus. by Wendy Anderson Halperin. Peachtree, 2011.

THIS FOR THAT retold by Verna Aardema. Illus. Victoria Chess. Dial, 1997.

WE’RE GOING ON A BEAR HUNT by Michael Rosen. Illus. Helen Oxenbury. Simon & Schuster, 1989.