Saturday, March 24, 2012

Giraffe Juggling

As I revise my rhyming picture book manuscript, advice on writing echoes in my thoughts: “Don’t do it. The rhyme has to be perfect. You have a better chance of juggling giraffes than selling a rhyming manuscript.”

Yet it attracts me. I love to read rhymes aloud, from Dr. Seuss to Mother Goose. Rhymes are texts I remember, from Good Night Moon to The Gruffalo. My feet tap and my head bops when I read Barnyard Dance or Jazz Baby. My kids don’t think of Shel Silverstein’s books as poetry, they think of them as fun. Good rhyme is timeless.

And despite the alarm bells, good rhyme is good business.

And there’s the rub: can I write a good rhyme? I can, at least, try. And I can’t help myself – it is fun. 
Some of the mechanical details are lost in my high school memory fog: poetic rules for slants, accents, structure and form. Any suggestions on favorite poetic resources would be appreciated.

I read my stanzas aloud and I know that the rhyme must flow as naturally as dialogue, it must not be forced, and each verse must serve the purpose of the story, moving the plot forward. Knowing however is not always the same as doing. 

I’m going to try anyway. If anyone has any good tips on giraffe juggling, that would be appreciated. 
What resources do you use to help you hone this irresistible craft? Do you have any success stories about juggling giraffes (ok, or writing)?


  1. Julie,

    Yes, writing rhyme is demanding and frustrating, but when it's perfect, rhyming poetry is a delight.

    I recommend POEM MAKING by Myra Cohn Livingston and I'll lend it to you if you like.

  2. Julie-- First of all I love your imagery! Giraffe juggling is wonderful!

    For poetry resources, I have really enjoyed Picture Writing by Anastasia Suen. (It actually covers fiction, nonfiction and poetry in different sections.)

    Also, I have enjoyed Mary Oliver''s A Poetry Handbook and Rules for the Dance (these are about "grown up" poetry, wonderfully written and inspiring).

    Success story-- When I started writing rhyming picture books, people often suggested I try them again in prose. In recent years, I rarely get that suggestion. People seem to like the rhyme and then give me suggestions of how to make the story better-- in rhyme. Yay!

    I think I developed a better instinct for rhythm by listening to people read my rhyme aloud-- and hearing where they stumbled. Also I read my own writing aloud a lot! (I think this is important in prose as well, but for me, when I rhyme, it is absolutely key. I have to hear how it flows.)

    Happy Rhyming!

  3. I've never tried to rhyme -- unless you count my third grade poem, "Flowers here, flowers there, flowers, flowers everywhere!" (It didn't get much better, truthfully, it got worse.)

    But I love rhyming PBs.

    I love rhymes that make me smile -- and I really love rhymes that make me laugh.

    If you want to really make me happy, sit me in a chair and read from "Marvin K. Mooney."

    Keep at it, Julie!

  4. Julie,
    I don't know about your rhymes, but your humor is right on target. Giraffe juggling made me burst out loud in laughter. Way to go. Don't give up!

    Linda A.

  5. Thank you everyone.
    Gale -- yes, please. Thanks!
    Brianna -- Thanks for the recommendations and the tip about having other people read it aloud. I need to do that more. And on suggestions to write the story in prose -- I wonder if you tried that and if it helped? I love your success story, thanks!
    Judy -- Thanks for the encouragement. I'm going to look for Marvin K Mooney tomorrow.

  6. I totally agree with everything you've said and feel the same way. Writing poetry is challenging but fun and it is important to have trained eyes looking at your work. I attended a workshop at SCBWI last year and became friendly with the poetry presenter. She recommended the book "All the fun's in how you say a thing" by Timothy Steele.

  7. mI struggle with this, too. I love to write rhyming pbs (not all, but some really call for it) and have heard not to. And yet there are rhyming pbs published all the time. What I do is read it aloud over and over. Also read Jack Prelutsky, Douglas Florian and Adam Rex's Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich and Frankenstein Takes the Cake. These are poetry collections but also great sources of inspiration. Good luck!

  8. Thanks for the recommendations Lyn and CL. I look forward to reading them, aloud and over and over.

  9. Julie,

    I also love and try to write rhyming PBs. You have garnered some great hints and how-to books here!