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To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme

Time and time again, authors, editors, and publishing professionals find themselves rehashing the rhyme debate. Some say that rhyming books just don’t sell, while others say that rhyming books are among the most popular. So how can you decide whether or not to write your manuscript in rhyme? What’s right for your book, and what’s right for the children’s literature market?

What are the problems with rhyme writing?

Odds are, you’ve heard the naysayers in the rhyme debate. You’re probably familiar with phrases like “Rhyme doesn’t sell” and “Editors don’t like rhyming books.” But these things are necessarily true. The real problems with rhyme writing are much more specific, which also makes them easier to resolve. So what are they?

1. Meter is everything

When you’re writing a rhyming book, good meter is everything! Meter is a way of describing the rhythmic structure, or pattern, your text follows. It relates to syllable counts and beats, or stresses.

Most children’s picture books are read aloud by parents and educators, which means that they need to do more than look good on the page. They also need to sound great. If you’ve ever read a rhyming book, you’ll notice that your pronunciation and emphasis naturally begin to follow a stress pattern. When you read a line of rhyming text without stopping, stumbling, or becoming confused about where the emphasis is supposed to fall, you have metric-minded authors and editors to thank.

Meter can be difficult to get right. Many authors add extra syllables or alter their stress patterns, and the result is difficult-to-read rhyme. Listen to the rhythm of your writing, research the meters you might like to try, and read your writing aloud again and again, hearing the patterns it uses.

2. Story over rhyme, always

As an author, your job is to tell stories. Naturally, this means that the story is almost always the most important part of your writing.

Sometimes, authors who write in rhyme feel restricted by their meter or the rhymes they’re trying to create. Instead of focusing on the plot details that drive their stories forward, they add in rhyming lines that serve their rhyme scheme but not their narrative.

Your narrative’s arc should be guided by what needs to happen for your story communicate everything you want it to. Try writing an outline in prose, then navigating a shift into rhyme.

A cat doesn’t have to wear a hat if the point if your story is that it only likes wigs, and if you’re writing about a very dark night, it’s probably safe to say that nothing is especially light or bright.

3. Tricky translating

One of the commercial arguments against rhyme writing is the difficulty it adds to translation. Have you ever listened to a popular song in a different language and noticed how many meanings have been altered to maintain rhythm and rhyme? Picture books are exactly the same!

Now, none of this is to say that rhyme can’t be translated. Translators are clever, creative people, so if there’s a foreign market for your book, translation is possible. But translation is likely to be much more difficult if your translator has to either revise your whole manuscript’s structure to achieve foreign-language rhyme or do away with rhyme and aim for prose instead.

If you expect that your book will only ever appear in the language you’re writing it in, don’t let translation worries hold you back, but if you think foreign-language editions are in your future, give some thought to whether rhyming text might stand in your way.

What’s great about rhyme writing?

What’s that? There are people who argue for rhyme writing? Of course! Rhyme has plenty of fans in the publishing world. Let’s find out why.

1. Rhyming and learning

One of the most important jobs of a picture book is to introduce young children to literacy concepts. Even when children aren’t reading independently, engaging with books and listening to stories are important parts of language and literacy development.

Rhyme writing is based on patterns and predictability, which makes it a great foundation for early literacy skills. When young children listen to rhyming lines, they can make predictions about what’s coming next. This is a valuable skill that will come in handy in later reading. Have you ever guessed what was coming next before you turned the page in a chapter book?

Additionally, when engaging with rhyming texts, children can begin to identify visual and auditory similarities between words and phrases. This can help them develop the knowledge and skills needed for independent reading and writing. By listening to a parent or educator read “rat” and “mat” as a rhyming pair, children can hear that these words sound alike and see that both use similar letter configurations to create their similar sounds.

2. Reading rhyme aloud

Usually, though not always, rhyming books gear toward younger readership demographics. They are often short, simple, and designed to be read aloud by parents or educators.

The flow and rhythm of good rhyme writing make it easy to read aloud and offer opportunities for readers to include emphasis and expression. This makes books fun to read and listen to, and it also helps children learn how to read with enthusiastic, animated voices. These skills are important for reading, speaking, and communicating with others.

3. Maintaining engagement

If you’ve ever tried to read a long book to a young child, you’ll know that picture books aimed at young audiences need to be quick, clever, and engaging in order to maintain a young listener’s attention.

Rhyming stories sound like songs, which helps children remain engaged for longer and encourages “reading” along. Rhythmic language and clever rhymes are catchy and fun, meaning that young children are more likely to stay with a story all the way to its end.

What’s right for you?

Ultimately, the decision of whether to write in rhyme or prose is yours. There are valid arguments for both sides of the debate. What matters most, though, is what your book needs to achieve great things. If you’re still struggling to decide whether rhyme is right for your story, ask yourself some of the following questions.

  • Am I confident using the rhyming meter I’ve chosen and/or will choose?

  • Have I read my story aloud, listening to the way it sounds and where stresses fall?

  • Is my meter clear, consistent, and smooth? Is it easy to read aloud, or do I trip up and stumble over sections or words?

  • Am I including plot points because they’re right for my story or simply because they feature the rhyming words I want to use?

  • Do I plan for this book to be translated into another language someday?

  • How old is my target audience?

  • Will this book predominantly be read aloud by parents or educators?

  • Does my book focus on introducing early literacy concepts to young children?

  • What makes me feel most enthusiastic about my story? Rhyme or prose?

Look to the greats

There’s no better way to learn to write good rhyme than to look to the authors who write it well. Read some of these fantastic rhyming books, and ask some of the questions above to determine what made rhyme the perfect choice!

  • Oh, the Places You’ll Go! By Dr. Seuss

  • Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae

  • The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson

  • Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

  • The Very Cranky Bear by Nick Bland

Check out some of our authors’ rhyming books

Many Wildflower Books authors have created great rhyming stories! These are just some of those fantastic books!

Did this blog post teach you something about writing in rhyme? What are your favorite rhyming picture books?

At Wildflower Books, we offer a range of editing and proofreading services. We specialize in children’s fiction, from picture books and YA novels, and have helped many authors create fantastic books. If you’d like to learn more about your editing options, we’d love to hear from you. Send us an email today!

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