Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Lyrics and Poetry: Not Exactly the Same Thing

I have just found your blog via Dani Jones's clever article which stopped me looking for an illustrator, but now I have another question which you may or may not be able to answer.
I am a music teacher and work a lot with early years, mums and babies, and pre-schoolers, in Scotland. I have a few ideas that I usually put into song rather than write them down but I think they could maybe work as rhyming picture books.
The question is, if I have a good tune that makes a book fun to sing as well as say, is there are place for notation (or even a suggestion that this should be sung rather than said) in a children's picture book? I know that Julia Donaldson has done this with The Snail and the Whale, but I don't know how recommended it is, if you are not Julia Donaldson, and haven't already written The Gruffalo.
Once upon a time, music was part of every educated child's upbringing, because with no TV or video games or children's books, evenings were really, really dull. And music continued to be a part of most children's upbringings for several decades past that time.

But no more. Most young parents today do not know how to read music. That's your answer.
Do you know of any publishers who are particularly into fusing song and poetry?
Sometimes the tune is what makes the rhyme work. Does that mean I haven't written the rhyme well enough?!

Ahem, I mean: Perhaps that's subjective. Lots of lovely songs which I personally enjoy have lyrics which only work with the music and particular expression of the singer. That doesn't make those lyrics bad.
But if you mean, does that make those lyrics a bad text for a picture book, the answer is yes. They may be good lyrics, but they're bad poetry.
I suppose it should be able to stand on it's own, like a very good leonard cohen song, as a spoken poem/story, and if/when you happen to hear it sung it's a separately effective experience.
Ultimately, is it better, as with illustrators, to leave such ideas out of initial manuscripts when you send them?
I'm afraid so. Sorry.
Of course, we're all looking toward the digital book revolution, and once that happens, it will be much easier to combine recorded music with illustrations. And then your lyrics can remain lyrics. So perhaps you only need to let it wait a few years.


Marilynn Byerly said...

Workman does some of Sandra Boynton's board books with a musical CD included.

ae said...

Check out Piano Press. Google them.

I am not sure if that is where you are going or not... but maybe you can come up with something that they do do.

Kate said...

I have two daughters, and as toddlers two of their favorite books did involve music.

One was a Disney book that actually plays "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes" and has the words on the first page. My girls loved to press the music button. They were less enthusiastic about me singing along.

The other is "If You Were My Bunny" by Kate McMullan, illustrated by David McPhail. This one includes five sets of original lyrics to be sung to well-known lullaby tunes.

Neither of these required learning new melodies. We have other books with songs that came on CD, but we've never listened to any of them. The book needs to be self-contained and self-sufficient to be practical for tiny people.

Anonymous said...

Wow, such a nearly snark-free response--are you okay today, EA? :)

I was given a baby book that had an accompanying lullaby CD, but it wasn't as though I were going to make the effort to use them simultaneously--so I kept the CD and ditched the book (which was just photos of sleeping babies.)

Editorial Anonymous said...

I have been feeling a little funny. Maybe I've lost my snark. That would be a terrible, terrible thing.

emma darwin said...

You could always try the music publishers - OUP and Faber both have Music divisions, then there's Chester, Music Sales... I used to work in a music shop, and those books sold quite well to piano-literate mums and grannies who'd popped in for the older child's clarinet reeds, as well as to whichever teacher in every local primary school is in charge of music.

ae said...

Look into Usborn, too.

Amber, Storytime Librarian said...

If School Library Journal mentions a book could be sung at story time, school and public libraries might buy it for children's programming.

Henry Lawson Poems said...

Do you know of any publishers who are particularly into fusing song and poetry?

Yogananda's Listen to my Soul Song
A Perfect Union of Poem, Chant, and Prayer.

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