Thursday, April 7, 2011

Rhyming Poems in Picture Books

Week of April 3, 2011: Picture Book Poetry
Thursday, April 7:  Rhyming Poems in Picture Books

Rhyme is something I’m still learning about. Poetry is something I’m still learning about. Picture books are something I’m still learning about. So today’s post is all about things I’m learning and have discovered. Don’t think of me as an expert—I’m not! Just a curious learner.

There are many rhyming picture books out there. Some are fine, many are awful, a few are amazing. A few of the amazing rhyming picture books are actually examples of poetry. Now I’m not talking about collections or anthologies of poems, but I mean an entire story told in rhyming poetry. I’ll show you a few favorites. Each has volumes to teach us.

Earlier this week, I mentioned Once Upon a Twice by Denise Doyen and Barry Moser. This book, based on Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” poem, is a master class in how to create a classic, poetic picture book. Consider this one passage and analyze the rhyme you find:

But no!
Jam scritchscrambles in a log!
Heart a-poundin’, in a-fog,
Disturbs a tadpole-tailed frog,
Then hogs her hiding place till dawn.

Skulking back—he hugs the walls,
Familiar, worn, grasshadowed halls
That lead to Sweet Home after all!
Rejoicing calls: “Our Jam’s not gone!”

Mouse years go by . . .

From: Once Upon a Twice by Denise Doyen and Barry Moser, pp. 22-23

The rhymes within each stanza and then the rhymes at the end of both stanzas provide the rhyme scheme. But what makes this poetry to me is far beyond the rhyme . . . it’s the meter, of course, but also the inventive word choice and even the word inventions. The imagery is painted succinctly with carefully selected words. What a masterpiece!

If you want to see a perfect example of a rhyming poetic picture book that seems both commercial and literary, then look no further than All the World by Liz Garton Canton and Marla Frazee. As you read this book you will see the difference between poetry in a picture book and a story line in a picture book. Notice how each stanza of the poem tells about a different thing in the world and that the ending phrase of all the stanzas begins with “All the world . . .”

Rock, stone, pebble, sand
Body, shoulder, arm, hand
A moat to dig, a shell to keep
All the world is wide and deep (pp. 3-6)

Skip, trip, stumble, fall
Tip the bucket, spill it all
Better luck another day
All the world goes round this way (pp. 20-23)

From: All the World by Liz Garton Canton and Marla Frazee

How about a hilarious, fun example? Cowlick! by Christin Ditchfield and Rosalind Beardshaw is guaranteed to crack you up! This is also a perfect example of how the illustrator tells the other half of the story. Even though the text doesn’t reveal who the secret cowlicker is, the illustrations give us clues. There’s also a sub-plot going on in the illustrations featuring the dog. The dog is never mentioned in the story text, however. In this book the rhyming text (which still seems of a poetic nature to me) actually tells a complete story.

When the moon rises high
and the stars shine bright
Little boys in bed with their eyes shut tight

Clip-clop, clip-clop down the hall
Funny shadow on the wall
Closer now—tiptoe, tiptoe
Doorknob turning very slow.

From: Cowlick! by Christin Ditchfield and Rosalind Beardshaw, pp. 5-10

Anyone who reads my blog knows that one my favorite writers (and a person I consider a mentor) is Lisa Wheeler. Lisa is a rhymer extraordinaire and a fantastic story teller. Her latest book, Spinster Goose: Twisted Rhymes for Naughty Children (illustrated by Sophie Blackall), tells the story of Mother Goose’s sister, Spinster Goose, who owns a school to deal with children who are the worst of the worst. I bet you’ll recognize many of these kids and you’ll recognize the nursery rhymes used as the inspiration for each entry.

This week Spinster Goose is featured in Entertainment Weekly’s “The Chart” Top 10 Hard-Cover Best Seller List! WOW!

This book is a sort of a new genre to me. Poetry, yes . . . picture book, yes . . . no story line, but a story all the same. Whatever you call the genre, the book has cool, inventive word play and stellar rhyming throughout. Here’s one, short excerpt:

The Menu
Peas porridge hot.
          (I hate this food a lot.)
Peas porridge cold.
          (All moldy, green, and old.)
Peas porridge thin.
          (In slimy gelatin.)
Peas porridge thick.
          (I think I’m feeling sick.)

From: Spinster Goose: Twisted Rhymes for Naughty Children by Lisa Wheeler and Sophie Blackall, p. 21.
It’s Your Turn!
and read Bruce Lanksy’s poem “What I Found in My Desk.” Let this poem inspire you to write a rhyming poem of your own. Maybe you could write about what you found in your purse, car, your child’s backpack, etc. Anyone brave enough to share may post your poem in the “Comments” section.
2. If you are using rhyme in one of your manuscripts, think of the great examples of rhyming, poetic text we’ve seen today. Let these books (and others like them) guide your work.

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