Saturday, May 19, 2007

Broken Rhyme and Shattered Eardrums

Your blog item about children's poetry was interesting. How about the interest level in a children's story written in rhyming verse?

Poetry and stories in verse are separate categories in children's books, but both are, of course, poetry. And that makes them very, very difficult to do well.

Lots of people enjoy writing poetry, and I wouldn't discourage that for the world. But what you do as a hobby and what a poet does is the difference between the person who has a gorgeous, ancient bonsai and the person who is aware they have a tree in their back yard.

This is a difference not much appreciated by the mass of people in the slush pile, and this is why you sometimes hear editors say they can't read another rhymed manuscript until their therapist says they're ready.

Rhymed manuscripts are, nevertheless, important. The best audience for rhymed manuscripts is infants and toddlers, because rhythmic language with predictable, repeated sounds helps very young children to absorb the patterns of our language. (You could, of course, read the Times' stock pages to your infant and still be doing him or her a favor. Any reading aloud makes a difference during those critical early years.)

Please be aware that rhymed manuscripts for children older than 4 are very hard to get right. (Never mind that John Lithgow is doing a business in them. If the only real competition you can find in any pursuit is a celebrity, you should know that you cannot compete.) There are a few books that do this well, but even they must battle the perception among children that rhyming books are for babies.

For my sanity and the sanity of all other editors, use this rule of thumb: never put a manuscript into rhyme because it seems easier or cuter than to develop a story based on writing well and writing hard. If your work (however joyful) doesn't seem like real work to you, chances are it won't seem like it to anyone else.

4 comments:

AE said...

The last line here means everything to me. Thanks you so much for your blog.

Anonymous said...

I too would like to say thanks for that last line. Writing is VERY hard work. I sometimes think I should have trained to be a brain surgeon.

Tristi Pinkston said...

Bad rhyming can be one of the most painful things in the world. Best stick with carefully crafted prose.

Melissa said...

Chris Van Dusen and Joshua Prince seem to be the only picture book authors out there who actually understand how to make rhymes scan properly.