Here at the Rhyme Doctors, we love poetry and we love metaphor. When we find a book that combines both, like Katey Howe's A Poem Grows Inside You, illustrated by Heather Brockman Lee, our joy blooms!
In A Poem Grows Inside You, the seed of an idea waits for the rhythm of the rainfall to awaken it, then takes root and begins to grow. Katey's picture book is at once a celebration of the deep connection creatives have with their art and an acknowledgement of the courage it takes to let it into the sun. We've invited Katey to HOUSE CALLS to shed some light on how she
nurtured both poetry and metaphor in her breathtaking book.
At the most basic, a metaphor is a figure of speech in which one item is used to represent or symbolize something else. It’s often used to give a concrete feel to an abstract concept or experience. In children’s books and poetry, that can also make for exciting, funny, or unexpected illustrations that catch kids’ eyes and imagination.
While a simple parallel between two things can be engaging and entertaining, the more similarities and comparisons you can demonstrate, the more reach and range your poem or book can explore.
In the case of A Poem Grows Inside You, the metaphor began with a seed. Because seeds can lie dormant and wait for the right conditions to sprout, it felt like a strong, concrete representation of the way writers hold onto precious ideas until they find the right rhythm, the right words, the right energy to bring them to poetic life.
With that established in my mind, I began listing other ways writing a poem and growing a seed could be considered similar:
The list grew on and on. And the best thing was, each of these similarities had the potential to be represented in engaging visual expression - something illustrator Heather Brockman Lee did in an outstanding manner!
It was also advantageous that there was a recognizable order in which these things would most likely happen. This helped to set up the pacing and structure of the book, and brought a layer of predictability that children respond well to.
Of course, writers needn’t plan an entire text around a central metaphor - there are so many opportunities to introduce metaphor within your text in smaller ways. We can use it to surprise, to enchant, to inspire, to challenge, to ask readers to look from a new point of view. But when you do see potential for extended metaphor, I highly recommend:
After that, let your metaphor blossom!
More about our visiting HOUSE CALLS doctor:
Katey Howes is a haphazard gardener, a darn good rhymer, and a fun mother. She's also the award-winning author of RISSY NO KISSIES, BE A MAKER, and a growing assortment of other books. You can find Katey under a big tree on a small mountain in Eastern Pennsylvania with a bowl of popcorn, a notebook full of ideas, and a rescue pup named Samwise. Or find her on Twitter @kateywrites, on IG @kidlitlove, and at www.kateyhowes.com.
What gives a picture book more allure?
A guessing game; your format cure!
Guessing game picture books are a big hit with young readers. These interactive books allow kids to make a guess, then turn the page to discover if they are correct. Guessing game books also lend themselves perfectly to rhyme. When the last word of the question and the subsequent answer are a rhyming pair, readers get a clue to the solution.
The key to a successful guessing game picture book? Fresh and clever end rhymes. Readers enjoy rhyming answers that are guessable but not too predictable or cliché. Miranda does this well in Whose Hands are These? Here's an example from the book where Miranda rhymes two words that have rarely, if ever, been paired in a picture book, panic and mechanic:
Notice that Dianne also uses alliteration (cheer song calls) and assonance (a bright, WHITE-bellied diving) to enhance the lyrical, read-aloud nature of the text. (For more information on the power of these literary devices see the HOUSE CALLS post on alliteration (upcoming) and assonance.)
If you’re a picture book writer looking for a way to make your manuscript more engaging, a guessing game format might be the answer you’ve been seeking.
-RHYME DOCTOR Michelle Schaub
Goodnight Moon. Time for Bed. The Going to Bed Book. Who doesn’t love a good bedtime story?
With soothing language and a soft cadence, bedtime books can be a great genre choice if you’re a children’s authors who enjoys writing rhyming and lyrical picture books. You can even mimic the rhythm of a traditional lullaby like “Hush, Little Baby” or “Rock-A-Bye Baby” to build your book around a set structure.
Sounds dreamy, doesn’t it? But before you snuggle up to write your own bedtime book, consider this. There are MANY bedtime books on the market. In order for your book to stand out, it needs to be about more than just settling in for bed. You need a fresh angle. An intriguing, kid-friendly topic to weave into the fabric of your bedtime quilt. For example…
Let’s take a closer look at some of the strategies I use in Dream Big, Little Scientists to provide a unique take on bedtime.
I balance bed-time-focused language with tangible science words. The illustrations then dig deeper into specific scientific elements.
For example, in this spread focused on geology, I use the kid-friendly geology-related words mountain and earth and the bed-time words quilts and snuggle. The illustration shows more about what geologists study and introduces a famous modern-day geologist, Jess Phoenix.
As you consider your own bedtime book topic, think about how your illustrations can add layers of information to your topic.
I rely on assonance to create a gentle lullaby tone. (See this Rhyme Doctor’s Post for more information on how to use assonance to enhance the read-aloud quality of your picture book.)
I use back matter to further strengthen the science angle of the book.
I challenge you to DREAM BIG and try writing your own bedtime book. Just don’t forget to give it a fresh twist!
Rhyme Doctor Michelle Schaub
I've long been a fan of Deborah Underwood's books. She has written/co-written
36 fiction books and 28 nonfiction books for children.
Among her many titles are lovely, lyrical picture books:
And these rhyming fractured fairytales, too:
When I spotted her new book, BEARPLANE, illustrated by Sam Wedelich, and I learned it was written in rhyme, I had to have it!
Below is a list of wonderful things I discovered while reading BEARPLANE:
1) I love BEARPLANE's clever title. Deborah Underwood took a familiar compound word - airplane - and replaced part of it with a rhyming word to create something new - bearplane - which serves as the inspiration for the fun that follows. This is a trick that I'd like to try myself!
2) BEARPLANE is written in second person, addressing the cub as "you." This invites the reader to identify more closely with the cub, and it also allows the cub to be seen as any gender.
4) An additional story plays out in the illustrations. A grumpy gentlebear (easy to spot in his green fedora) is flying, too. He has difficulties along the way - a stubbed toe, suitcase malfunctions, etc. A slight tension builds when the cub is the source of several problems. But in the end, the cub's generosity and friendliness win him over.
On my first read-through, I mispronounced the word "basses" using a long A vowel and wondered why Deborah Underwood (and her editor) would find this non-rhyme acceptable. Then I saw the fish in the bear's arms and laughed at this brilliant choice!
6) The ending extends the story beyond the bearport and bearplane ride. The bear pair's final destination is a family reunion, which adds depth to the story and is sweetly satisfying.
I recommend you check this one out! Read it bearfully, and see which techniques you might use in your own picture book.
Writing in terse rhyme is a great way to energize your picture book manuscript!
beneath the sea…
Why try terse rhyme?
If you’ve been working on a picture book manuscript that seem text heavy and lacking energy, consider rewriting it in terse rhyme. Terse rhyme forces writers to distill their stories to the most important elements. What are the essential nouns, verbs, and adjectives? Short, crisp lines create an upbeat cadence. With the focus on verbs, terse rhyme lends itself especially well to topics that involve many actions… like an island forming… or...
a walrus surviving in the Arctic!
WALRUS SONG by Janet Lawler, illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering,(Candlewick Press, 2021) is an excellent mentor text for terse rhyme. In WALRUS SONG, Lawler explores the wonders of this cumbersome sea mammal.
Let’s look at how Lawler constructs the lines in WALRUS SONG. Here’s an excerpt from the middle of the book:
(Notice the vibrant, specific verbs. This focus on verbs really showcases the fascinating (and often funny) behaviors of walruses.)
Lawler also uses short lines infuse the text with energy and motion.
With terse rhyme, since there are fewer words on the page, it’s even more important that every word count. In the previous lines, notice how Lawler uses alliteration ("blubbered, bashing"; "clashing, crashing) and assonance ("walrus, blubber, tusks"; “fight, might “clashing, crashing, bashing.") Lawler chooses words whose sounds echo the intensity of male walruses sparring. Every word is percussive and engaging.
Besides the masterful use of terse rhyme, other elements make WALRUS SONG a great mentor text. Lawler provides engaging nonfiction back matter to support each spread. Also, the story begins with a question “Where is walrus?” and ends with a question “What will his tomorrow be?” This is a great example of “bookending” a story.
Sink your tusks into WALRUS SONG and get a feel for terse rhyme. Then try it out on your own picture book manuscript. It may provide just the vibe your story needs!
-Rhyme Doctor Michelle Schaub
A parody is "an imitation of the style of a particular writer, artist, or genre with deliberate exaggeration for comic effect" (Oxford Dictionary). Have you read any picture book parodies? Some are "adult" versions of popular classics, such as GOODNIGHT IPAD. But you'll also find parodies of fairytales, folktales, and nursery rhymes aimed at young audiences.
If you like writing in rhyme, it's an enjoyable exercise to try a parody. Your version doesn't need to be overly comic; picture book parodies often bring smiles with clever twists or use of language. Many picture book parodies have been picked up for publication and can be especially popular as read-alouds.
MARY HAD A LITTLE LAMP by Jack Lechner and Bob Staake immediately brings in humor when the opening spread swaps out Mary's loyal lamb for a desk lamp.
The next two spreads give small, specific details that explain Mary's love for her lamp. The author then returns to the original nursery rhyme, as Mary takes the lamp to school with disastrous results. Humor builds as her worried parents seek professional help:
The kids gain control, and the book ends with them creating items with sheep fleece.