Archives for posts with tag: Remy Charlip

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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PATTERN & RHYTHM

The use of pattern and rhythm is as natural in picture book texts as it is in music and art.  They provide shape, order, and expectations.  When the expectations are met we experience comfort and completion.  And, depending on how and when these expectations are not met we experience confusion, frustration or delightful surprise.

In Robert Bright’s classic GEORGIE characters become disoriented when their familiar rhythm is taken away.  The patterns and rhythms of THE THREE BEARS are so precise and familiar it can be “told” through only whistling and gestures. 

PING PONG

Perhaps the most basic rhythm is POINT–COUNTER POINT. It is the typical pattern for books about opposites.  Small – Large.  Short – Tall.  Etc.  IT LOOKED LIKE SPILT MILK by Charles Shaw develops the pattern a bit further with a rhythm of statements and denial. DUCK RABBIT by Rosenthal & Lichtenheld is another wonderful example of this rhythm that includes a small “reverse flip” near the end before returning to the established ping and pong of disagreement. This reverse brings the surprise of change, and the immediate return to pattern evokes smiles of familiarity.

This ping pong rhythm is also found in picture books using the folk tale plot of “good news – bad news”. Remy Charlip’s FORTUNATELY is written is a crisp style with the words “fortunately” or “unfortunately” leading each statement. THAT’S GOOD! THAT’S BAD! By Margery ‘Cuyler expands the sense of story through longer scenes, but still follows the rhythm with her selected phrases:  “Oh, that’s bad.  No, that’s good!” and “Oh, that’s good.  No, that’s bad!” 

Ed Young’s retelling of the Chinese tale, THE LOST HORSE, is composed of the same pattern and rhythm, but in a more subtle way.  Here the story is dominant with the  “good-bad” comments simply part of the prose instead of punch lines.

Sample Books With Ping Pong Patterns & Rhythm

DUCK! RABBIT! By Amy Krouse Rosenthal & Tom Lichtenheld. Chronicle, 2009.

FORTUNATELY by Remy Charlip.  Siimon & Schuster, 1964.

A GARDEN OF OPPOSITES by Nancy Davis.  Schwartz & Wade, 2009.

GEORGIE by Robert Bright. DOUBELDAY, 1944.

IT LOOKED LIKE SPILT MILK by Charles G. Shaw. Harper, 1947.

THE LOST HORSE by Ed Young.  Harcourt, 1998.

NOT A BOX by Antoinette Portis.  Harper, 2006.

OVER UNDER by Marthe Jocelyn & Tom Slaughter. Tundra, 2005.

THAT’S GOOD! THAT’S BAD! By Margery Cuyler.  Illus by David Catrow. Holt, 1991.

WHITE IS FOR BLUEBERRY by George Shannon. Illus by Laura Dronzek. Greenwillow, 2005.