Friday, August 3, 2007

What Rhymes with 'Misdemeanor'?

My question is one I see constantly debated for picture books: Is it a crime
to write in rhyme?

No, but it is a crime to think that rhyming is the same thing as writing poetry, or that poetry is easy.

Thinking that a picture book for any age can be rhymed is a misdemeanor. Letting the rhyme drive the content instead of the other way around is a felony, and sing-songy rhyme that teaches a lesson can be prosecuted as second-degree manslaughter.

Rhyme has serious ramifications, and should not be attempted by amateurs. Even if it doesn't result in jail time, it is often grounds for a restraining order, and certain particularly pernicious couplets have been outlawed in some states.

If you want to see some examples of rhyme done in a law-abiding and publishable way, simply visit your nearest bookstore.

16 comments:

literaticat said...

I want to shove a copy of SEVEN SILLY EATERS down the throats of everyone who sends me their terrible rhyming couplets.

Hello! Rhyme has to do with RHYTHM as well as "the sound at the end of the sentance"!

Judy said...

I've seen some horrible books in rhyme that have been published, but probably only because the author was 'famous' in another genre...why do publishers DO that? I know my rhyme is better than some that have been published.

And how does one become an 'expert' without practice?

Roger Sutton said...

What perpetually stumps me is that editors at writers' conferences, etc., are forever warning writers about how tricky rhyming texts are, yet such books--bad ones--are routinely published. As Judy says above, it's often celebrity books, but from my desk I regularly see the same from unknown writers for brand-name publishers. What gives?

Anonymous Eponymous said...

And rhyme should be appropriate to the subject matter... if I get any more jaunty rhyming verse about habitat destruction or death of a grandparent...

My pet peeve (as far as rhyme driving content goes) is frequently and inexplicably shifting POV.

Sarah Miller said...

Oh come on -- sing-songy rhyme that teaches a lesson is CLEARLY premeditated, and thus deserves a much tougher verdict than second degree manslaughter.

Anonymous said...

So if you actually CAN rhyme what are the chances an editor will take a chance on the next Prelutsky?

Anonymous Eponymous said...

Please enjoy my post The Horrid Cuse of Rhyming Verse on my blog: So You want to Write a Kids' Book

Deirdre Mundy said...

I've noticed that alot of the TERRIBLE Rhyming books out there (at least the ones that my kids get as gifts) are the novelty-supermarket-checkout type....

My standard on a rhyming book is:

If I have to correct the meter and rhyme as I'm reading it to keep my children from complaining, it goes to the trash...

If it's Ok, but not great, it goes to the rummage sale......

---
Though, I must admit (with properly shamed demeanor) that when I started writing for kids I had the BRILLIANT idea of writing epic picture books in ballad format for 6-8 graders......

Luckily for me (or I'd be in prison now) I did market research and figured out that no one actually PUBLISHES 155 stanza ballads. So they're all still sitting on my hard drive somewhere, in the "Ignore me forever" file. =)

My question is: How does one QUERY a rhyming picture book... (yes, queries again) -- Should the writer include a stanza or two from the book just so the editor knows that the rhyme and meter are up to snuff?

Oh... and Judy-- Publishers publish crummy rhyming books because a large percentage of the public think "Oh, it rhymes. How ADORABLE. Children loves rhyme. I'll buy it for my child/grandchild/niece/neighbor."

Of course, these are often the same people who say "You write children's books? I've written a book too! It starts like this:

Betty loved her grandma
More than she wanted to be a ballet dancer
So she cried a lot on the terible day
When Grandma succumbed to lung cancer."

I saw an interview with one of the Pixar guys once... he basically said "Most kids have no taste. They'll love any cartoon they see, just because it's a cartoon. So we try to make movies WE would love, and make sure that they're OK to take a kid to....."

I think many adults have no taste when it comes to children's books. So you have to try to write something that will really set kids on fire, but won't turn off the book buying adults...... =)

ae said...

Hey! That used to be my name. Nice name. Ask me again and I'll tell you the same.

Never mind.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Roger,
There's no accounting for lack of taste. If the world were ideal, only editors who habitually read poetry would be allowed to acquire it.

Judy,
There's no accounting for celebrity. There is accounting for the drool that forms at the corners of our superiors' mouths when a celebrity comes to us with a book, though.
Hopeful poets should read a great deal of poetry and practice in carefully controlled settings.

Deirdre,
"How does one QUERY a rhyming picture book... Should the writer include a stanza or two from the book just so the editor knows that the rhyme and meter are up to snuff?"
That sounds like a good idea to me.

Anonymous,
30%.

nw said...

I do wonder sometimes if editors read rhyming picture books aloud before they publish them. I've spent many unpleasant evenings reading awful rhyming books (hardcover PBs from major publishers) to my small child.

Anonymous said...

If publishers will publish awful rhyming books because celebrity groupies or grannies who want "cute rhyme" will buy them, how can they be astonished when tons of the stuff pours into their slush piles?

Anonymous said...

"vacuum cleaner"

"texas weiner"

Anonymous said...

I for one LOVE good rhyme. As a writer of rhyming picture books it gives me an intense feeling of satisfaction when I get it right! I think, at least the editors that I talk with like a good rhyming picture book. Not didactic, but a good story. It is always about the story anyway isn't it? Many celebrity writers get it wrong. Many writers force it and use near rhyme. But one for sure that gets it RIGHT is John Lithgow, especially in Micawber.

Kelly DiPucchio, Lisa Wheeler, Verla Kay, the late Linda Smith they rock with rhyme and they make me aspire to be the best rhymer that I can be.

Susanna Einstein just sold a picture book in rhyme to Feiwel & Friends that is a rhyming book by Christine Tricarico, so I think there are editors out there that want it.

And personally, I think when it's done well it is just a GREAT THING!

Brenda Sturgis

bebe said...

I think a lot of bad published rhyming picture books come from author/illustrators or author/illustrator teams. The editor falls in love with the illustrations and let the flawed rhyme slide, or work with it until it's just good enough, not great. Not an excuse, just another perspective. They could insist on switching to prose, or insist on a different author, but...there's only so much insisting one person can do.

But whenever writers submit because it's "better than this other published crap" and not because it's "good of its own accord," it's never a good thing.

We're not astonished that bad rhyming manuscripts come in. That there are already bad rhyming books out there is one of many reasons to expect it.

Better than just going to a bookstore to see good rhyme: go to a bookstore, pick out some picture books that you really like--ones you haven't seen before, not your own childhood favorites--then count how many are rhyming.

The next Prelutsky...hmm...

Judy said...

Even if there are editors who like rhyme, and will buy and publish it, isn't it really difficult to get it to them? Most of the publishers I have read about do not take unsolicited manuscripts, so that means we have to find an agent first, right? And isn't that even more difficult, given the bad rap poetry and verse gets?