Off and on for years I’ve been working on a picture book with a science-based theme. I love the subject, but something has always been off, maybe particularly my stiff voice. It finally dawned on me that I wanted something more like song, which would invite readers to join in. And with a theme of the ways that animals who look different behave in similar ways, rhyme, which uses sound to bring together two different things, seems perfect. It took me a long time to see past my habits to get that.
While I continue to gather material and trim, trim, trim, I haven’t yet decided on what poetic form I’ll use. I’m reading some ghazals, sestinas, and pantoums, and will decide if I want to work in couplets, triplets, or four-line stanzas as I decide on how much information is best. Meanwhile, I’m noting some pairs of sounds and possible refrains.
Rhyme and meter set up expectations that can feel as comfortable as in a chair where we feel coziest, but it might also knock us off that seat. The rhythm sets us up to wait for that last word, but it should surprise us, too. In poetry fro children, often that surprise is a joke, but it can be any kind of startling, waking up, and might first have an element of Really? or Wow! followed by: Why didn’t I ever see that? Readers should feel both balanced and tipping over.
It’s fun to let words knock against each other, with rhyme calling out its own needs, setting my mind to thoughts I wouldn’t have without its demands. But in this particular picture book, I can’t let it run into nonsense, but keep the lines trimmed to actual animal behavior. Fortunately, I’ve got lots of movement to enjoy, not to mention snuffling, snorting, nickering, neighing, whooshing, huffing, and RhymeZone, which is a lovely place to play.
Rhyme is a sort of cousin to metaphor, bringing together two different things, but its shirtsleeves are made of sound. Or does that shirt quite fit? Trying out rhymes is like putting on a shirt, taking it off, and pulling another off a hanger. Just how comfortable should it be? I want a little tension, but not so much the seams threaten to tear. I don’t want it to be saggy. The closet floor is getting covered, but that’s a good thing, full of bright possibilities. I’m going to be letting shirts fall and kicking them around for a while.
For more Poetry Friday, please visit Laura Purdie Salas at Writing the World for Kids.
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