Rhyme Clinic With Linda Ashman!

Happy December, Everyone!

I hope you all had wonderful Thanksgivings and beginnings of Hanukkah and weekends with your families!

I must say, the morning run the last couple days has been more of a morning roll…  I blame the pie 🙂

Today’s post is a long one, but I think you’ll find it very educational and worthwhile!  The incomparable Linda Ashman kindly offered to do a Rhyme Clinic, since rhyme can be very tricky indeed!  I think we’ll all be able to learn a thing or two.  And it’s kind of appropriate to be doing such a special post today because it is my 3rd Blogiversary!  (Well, technically that was yesterday – but we were all sleeping off pie, so let’s celebrate today… with some cake!… which I shall make coffee cake in deference to the hour and the fact that we should go light after the Thanksgiving weekend feasting :))

And while we’re at it, I think some confetti would be appropriate, don’t you?  It’s not every day you celebrate a blogiversary with someone as famous as Linda to guest post 🙂

Alrighty then!  Now that we are fortified with snack and covered in confetti, take it away, Linda!

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Greetings, everyone!
I’ll begin with a confession: Although I’ve critiqued many rhyming manuscripts over the years, I’ve never done a Rhyme Clinic via blog post. So, a huge thank you to the intrepid Susanna for being game to try this.
And thank you to everyone who submitted manuscripts. I really enjoyed reading them, and am sorry I couldn’t use them all. I chose manuscripts which would allow me to answer frequently asked questions and address common issues that bedevil writers of rhyme. I’ll be sharing parts of them in just a minute—but, first, a quick intro. 
In The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books, I go into some detail about meter, feet, and how to avoid “Crimes of Rhyme.” Given our limited space here, let me just mention three of the most commonly committed crimes:
1.  Letting rhyme trump story. Sometimes we focus so much on making rhymes that we lose sight of the story. The result? Confusing plot lines, poetic detours, and “random” rhymes that don’t move your story forward.
2.  Unnatural phrasing. It’s tempting to use rarely-heard words or twist sentences into awkward contortions in order to make a rhyme. If it’s not a phrase you’d actually say, it probably shouldn’t go in your story.
3.  “Off” Meter.  Writing rhythmic verse involves more than counting the syllables in each line. You need to pay attention to the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables. There are different names for these patterns—which I won’t go into here—but the main point is to be aware of the pattern and be (mostly) consistent in using it. You also want to pay attention to “feet” – the number of times the pattern is repeated in a line. Tracking this pattern line by line is called “scanning” your verse—something writers of rhyme should know how to do.
In discussing the meter of rhyming manuscripts, I’ll use ALL CAPS for stressed syllables, and lower case for unstressed. For example:
twas the NIGHT / before CHRIST / mas and ALL / through the HOUSE
has a “da da DUM da da DUM” (anapestic) pattern. This pattern is repeated four times in one line, for four feet. (By the way, putting stressed syllables in all caps doesn’t mean we shout those syllables when we read them—the emphasis should be discernible, but subtle.)
Okay, that’s it for the quick intro. Let’s read some rhyme, shall we?
Our first example is from Winnie Brews a Witchy Stew by Rosi Hollinbeck. Winnie’s mom isn’t feeling well, so Winnie decides to make stew—but a crucial ingredient is harder to come by than she realized.
Winnie’s mom is sick in bed.
With an awfully achy head
            Caused by her pointy hat.
Supper is near, it’s time to cook.
So Winnie scans her big cook book
            For things to fill her vat.
She finds a recipe for cake
That calls for boiled rattlesnake
            It doesn’t sound quite right.
Cold spider soup with extra mud
Needs a cup of green toad blood
            But has to cook all night.
So Winnie wracks her witchy brain.
She pages through the book again
            And finds the perfect thing.
She checks to see what is at hand.
Sure her stew will be quite grand.
            She just needs one bat wing.
She fills her vat with lizards’ feet
Adds chopped jumping spider meat
            Spiced up with dried swamp scum.
Nettles, stinkweed, fried toad warts,
Black squid ink – six or seven quarts,
            And pickled fish eyes –Yum!
Yum, indeed! Anyone hungry? Rosi does something interesting with her rhyme pattern: the first two lines rhyme with each other, then the third rhymes with the third line in the next stanza, and so on. Because she’s consistent about it, it works. Still, I can’t help thinking that third line lands rather heavily and interrupts the flow of the story. What do others think?
Rosi also does a nice job of keeping her meter (mostly) consistent, alternating one stressed and one unstressed syllable (DUM da / DUM da / DUM da / DUM)—or vice-verse—throughout. I stumbled—slightly—in just a couple of places. For example, in the second stanza, she breaks the prevailing pattern with “SUP per is NEAR” (DUM da da DUM). This is easily fixed by using a contraction: SUPper’s NEAR.
I stumbled slightly over the next line as well. Because of the rhyme pattern, I want to say: “so WINnie SCANS her BIG cook BOOK.” But that sounds unnatural because, in speaking, we say “COOK book”, not “cook BOOK.” I’d suggest changing it to something like “WINnie SCANS her GIant BOOK” (the context and illustrations will show that it’s a cook book).
I also tripped over the sixth stanza. The first line sounds unnatural (in speaking, we’d say “She checks to see what’s at hand” (which, unfortunately, doesn’t work with the rhyme pattern), not “She checks to see what is at hand). And the third line has the same problem as the cook book example. Because of the meter, I want to say “bat WING” but, in speech, we’d say “BAT wing.”
A few other lines were troublesome: “Adds chopped jumping spider meat” is a mouthful, and the rhythm is off for “BLACK squid INK – SIX or SEVen QUARTS”. The latter is an easy fix with something like “BLACK squid INK—a DOZen QUARTS.”
Overall, though, Rosi’s rhyme and rhythm are good. My bigger concern is with the story’s pacing. Although a witch’s house is a great setting, Winnie spends the first nine stanzas (of a 24-stanza story) in her kitchen trying to decide what to make, then mixing up various ingredients. When Winnie goes off to a cave in search of a bat wing (in the 10thstanza), things start to get more interesting. Rosi might consider condensing these early stanzas and making them more active and visual. Instead of staying in the kitchen, for example, Winnie might actively collect her ingredients—dig up snail shells, climb a tree for an owl feather, hunt through her dusty attic, etc.
1.  Try writing it in 4-line stanzas to see how it changes the rhythm and story.
2.  Scan the rhyme to make sure it’s consistent.
3.  Strive for natural phrasing.
4.  Condense the beginning stanzas, vary the scenery, and get to Winnie’s problem sooner.
Now let’s look at a different sort of manuscript. Anteater Saves Gas, Zebra Recycles Trash: A Green Alphabet is a concept book—an alphabestiary with an environmental twist (the author, Nancy, requested I use only her first name):
Anteater saves gas
riding her bike to class.
Bear buys his trash pail
at a garage sale.
Cheetah checks her meter,
then turns down the heater.
Donkey collects rain
pouring down his drain.
Elephant swings higher
in her recycled tire.
Fox lends to friends
his odds and ends.
Giraffe has great advice:
Use sheets of paper twice.
Hyena donates toys
to other girls and boys.
I like the active language (all those great verbs!), illustration potential, and the short, catchy rhymes. The main issue, rhyme-wise, is the meter. Many of the stanzas don’t have a discernible rhyme pattern, and there’s no predominant meter for the manuscript overall. Because this is a concept book—and we’re focused on each page as opposed to an ongoing story—Nancy may not need to use the same meter for all the stanzas. However, each stanza should be rhythmic and follow some sort of pattern.
Let’s start with what works. In the last two stanzas of our sample, Nancy uses a consistent iambic trimeter (three feet of “da DUM”):
gi RAFFE / has GREAT / ad VICE:
use SHEETS / of PA / per TWICE.
hy E / na DO / nates TOYS
to OTH / er GIRLS / and BOYS.
Excellent! Now let’s look at the first stanza:
ANT eat er saves GAS
RI ding her / BIKE to / CLASS.
The three unstressed syllables in the first line make it hard to know how to divide the line into feet. Part of the problem comes from using anteater (DUM da da) to lead things off. It might be easier to use a different animal—like aardvark, for example. If Nancy wanted to keep the three feet pattern of the giraffe and hyena stanzas, she might try something like this:
(and) SAVES a / LOT of / GAS.
The illustrations could show aardvark on a bike, so it wouldn’t need to be spelled out in the text.
I like Nancy’s “B” stanza:
BEAR buys his / TRASH pail
AT a gar / AGE sale.
Because Nancy uses the same pattern in each line (DUM da da / DUM da ), it has a nice rhythm to it.  It’s a different pattern than the others we’ve looked at, which—as I mentioned—may not matter so much in a concept book. But if Nancy wants to maintain a pattern of three feet per line, she might try something like this:
BADGer / BUYS his / TRASH pail
SHOPping / AT a / YARD sale.
I also tripped over the rhythm of the elephant (a rhythmically troublesome word like anteater) and fox stanzas. Here’s the latter:
FOX lends to / FRIENDS
his ODDS / and ENDS.
This feels abrupt to me (I keep wanting to say “his odds and his ends,” which sounds more rhythmic but doesn’t make sense). Again, if Nancy wants to aim for three feet per line, she could try something like:
FOX lends / TO his / FRIENDS
(a)SSORT ed / ODDS and / ENDS.
1. Try to find a rhyme pattern that you like and stick with it. Because it’s a concept book, it’s probably okay to have some variation in the rhyme pattern among the stanzas (what do others think about this?)—but each stanza should have a pattern.
2. The best stanzas (like giraffe) are natural-sounding. Most of your stanzas sound natural, but a few are awkward (for example, later in the text: Kangaroo’s magnet can feel / if a car is made of steel.)
3. In my book M is for Mischief: An A to Z of Naughty Children, I wrote an introductory stanza and a wrap-up stanza to make the collection feel more cohesive. You might consider doing something similar.
Since I’ve already used a lot of space here, I’m going to speed through a couple of examples from two other manuscripts. For each manuscript, I’ll pick out two stanzas—a strong one and a weaker one. 
Verse that works/Verse that needs work.
Our first example comes from Sylvester Johnson Ate a Slug by Pat Haapaniemi. I’ll start with the stanza that needs work because it’s the first one of the story:
Sylvester Johnson ate a slug,
all squiggly and alive.
He’s never done a thing like that
although he’s only five.
I like this stanza—the rhythm, the language, the evocative imagery (yuck!)—but was thrown by the last line. The “although” is confusing. Should he have eaten a slug by age five?  This feels like a “random rhyme”—the sort we use when we can’t find a better one. Sometimes you can get away with it, but I’d recommend changing this one—you don’t want your reader to be confused, especially so early in the story.
This stanza from Pat is much better:
His mother brushed and scrubbed his teeth
And made him gargle twice,
Then took him to professionals
To ask for their advice.
Here the rhyme sounds natural (I love when a multi-syllabic word like “professionals” works with your rhyme scheme), there’s good action, and it leads nicely into the next part of the story—the various experts’ theories on why Sylvester would do such a nasty thing.
For our second speedy example, I’ve pulled two stanzas from Midsummer Mischief by Joanna Marple. This time I’ll start with the stanza that (mostly) works:
On tippy toe paws, like cats on the prowl  
crept Bear and his friends – Mouse, Squirrel and Owl.
I really like the language in the first line of this stanza—it’s rhythmic, evocative, and I love the sound of “tippy toe paws.” I love it so much that it pained me to realize there’s a slight problem with it: owls don’t have paws. Perhaps Joanne can keep the “tippy toe” but get rid of the “paws.”
Here’s the one that needs work:
Fox sank in tears, “I’m a right soggy mess!”
Prankish adventures were his to confess.
The second line is one of those awkward contortions we sometimes do to make a rhyme. In speaking, we wouldn’t use such a phrase. We’d say “Fox confessed to his pranks” or the like. Again, if you wouldn’t say it, you probably shouldn’t include it in your story.
So does all this seem a bit obsessive—and perhaps a mite tedious?  Well, yes, it can be. But trying to find the perfect word—one that works rhythmically, sounds natural, AND moves your story forward—is what makes writing in rhyme so much fun (or not, depending on your perspective).
By the way, if my brief explanation of meter and feet left you more confused than enlightened, I highly recommend the following:
I fear I’ve made this post WAY too long, so I’ll wrap this up with a mantra for rhyme-writers: Be clear, be concise, be rhythmic, be natural.
Again, thanks for your submissions (and sorry I couldn’t include them all), and thank you, Susanna, for having me!
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Thank YOU so much for joining us today, Linda, and for kindly offering your expertise!  I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say it’s been a great learning experience.  And I know I’ve mentioned this before, but Linda’s Nuts & Bolts Guide is terrific!  I’ve read it and highly recommend it to anyone who wants to buy themselves ask for a holiday gift 🙂
See you here on Wednesday for Would You Read It.  And for anyone who might have missed them in the craziness of the past week, the Holiday Gift Guide for Writers is HERE and the guidelines for the Holiday Writing Contest (with great prizes including 2 of Linda’s picture books!) are HERE.
Have a marvelous Monday, everyone!  
From Linda’s website:
Linda Ashman’s more than two dozen picture books have earned numerous honors and starred reviews, and have been included on the “Best of the Year” lists of The New York TimesParentingChild, and Cookie magazines, Bank Street College of Education, the New York Public Library, and more. As a children’s poet, she’s been compared to Ogden Nash, Mary Ann Hoberman, Douglas Florian, and Jack Prelutsky. She’s taught a variety of workshops on writing for children, and is the author of The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books, a “how to” handbook for picture book writers.

Perfect Picture Book Friday – Bugs! Bugs! Bugs!

Mornin’ folks!

What’s new and exciting in your lives?

I spent a fair part of the last two days at the Get Read online conference.  It was very well run and interesting, but now I’m feeling behind in my work (for a change :)) so I’m going to put on my Succintness Hat and try to be brief and to the point today.  (And you all know how THAT’S likely to go… :))

First, here is my Perfect Picture Book:

Title: Bugs! Bugs! Bugs!
Written & Illuatrated By: Bob Barner
Chronicle Books, 1999, Non-Fiction

Suitable For Ages: 2-6

Themes/Topics: Bugs

Opening: “Bugs! Bugs! Bugs!  I want to see bugs!  Butterflies that flutter in the sky.  Spotted ladybugs that go creeping by.”  (This is actually the first three spreads.)

Brief Synopsis: Simple facts about familiar bugs in a rhyme.

Links To Resources:  One back page of the book includes a display of actual-sized bugs so young readers can see how big they are in real life and how they compare with each other.  Another back page compares facts about all the insects mentioned in the book: can it fly, where does it live, etc.  Here are a few activities, and here are a bunch of coloring pages.

Why I Like This Book: This book is delightfully simple.  Easy enough for youngest readers to enjoy, but with enough information in the back to interest slightly older children.  The pictures are bright, colorful, and engaging and do a great job of making bugs look friendly and non-threatening.  I’m not really much of a bug person, but I find this book very appealing 🙂  This is also an interesting example for writers to study.  The author gets across information in a fun way in only 76 words!

For the complete list of books with resources, please visit Perfect Picture Books.

Before we go, a few housekeeping details:

On Monday, I will announce who won the October Pitch Pick, who won the giveaway of SARAH GIVES THANKS by Mike Allegra, and who won the giveaways from Faith The Heroic Pony’s special Would You Read It post on Wednesday.

The wonderful and delightful Vivian Kirkfield has invited me to her blog where I will be a guest on her Will Write For Cookies series tomorrow (Saturday Nov. 16), so please go visit her!

Anyone who would like to submit to the Linda Ashman Rhyme Clinic which will take place here on Monday December 2, you still have a few days.  Linda has extended the deadline to Wednesday Nov. 20.  Complete details HERE.  (But the gist is, submit the first 20 lines of your rhyming picture book manuscript to susanna[at]susannahill[dot]com with Rhyme Clinic in the subject heading and Linda will help out with whatever rhyme troubles you’re having.  She has asked that writers submit their complete ms to her so she can see how well the beginning fits the whole story, but only the first 20 or so lines will be used for the clinic.)

Finally, I would like to announce a couple of scheduling things.  There will be NO Perfect Picture Books on Friday November 29.  It’s the day after Thanksgiving, and I’m assuming most of you will be busy with family.  (And I am trying to take the hint from my family that there are some days when I should not be on the computer :))

Likewise, I think I’m going to take the last two weeks of December off from blogging since that is also a busy family time.  The Holiday Contest will run from approximately December 9 -18 so that we can all enjoy it and still have time for holiday related madness (a whole week left before Christmas.)  We WILL have Perfect Picture Books on Friday December 20 (so we can sneak in a few more of everyone’s favorite holiday titles… unless everyone wants more of a break… please let me know!) and after that I think we’ll just all have a little rest over here so we can start up fresh and revitalized in January!  (Which means there will be NO Perfect Picture Books Friday December 13 or 27, and we can skip the 20th too if you guys want – let me know, and NO Would You Read It December 11, 18, or 25.)  So mark your calendars (and I’ll try to remember to remind you! :))

So.  How’d I do?  Not SO bad on the succinctness given how much we covered (and given that it’s me), don’t you think? 🙂

PPBF bloggers, please leave your post-specific links in the list below so we can all come visit you and see what terrific books you’ve chosen this week!

Have a great weekend, everyone! 🙂

Perfect Picture Book Friday – Balloons Over Broadway AND The Linda Ashman Rhyme Clinic Announcement

Wow!  Aren’t we all so glad it’s Friday?  Not only is the weekend so close you can taste it, we get a whole stack of Perfect Picture Books to start it off right!

I have a great book to share today, which I think is just perfect given that the Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City is only 3 weeks away.  And yes, those of you who have been here from Perfect Picture Books’ inception will know that I am totally cheating and recycling a perfect picture book that I already did on December 2, 2011 .  Here’s my excuse:

1. I did this for the 2nd week of PPBF back when only 9 of you were involved… so I’m hoping guessing a lot of you haven’t seen it 🙂

2. I just plain ran out of time this week.  Got my finger in too many pies or something, apparently 🙂  And I am doing a Young Writer’s Workshop on Sunday which I’m not done preparing for, so I needed every second I could snatch.

So, my apologies if you’ve seen this before, but if you haven’t I think you’ll love it and my advice is get thee to a library lickety-split so you can see the whole thing for yourself because it’s really great!

Title: Balloons Over Broadway
Written and Illustrated By: Melissa Sweet
Houghton Mifflin Books For Children, November, 2011, Non-Fiction Biography/History

Suitable For: ages 4-8

Themes/Topics:  art, puppeteering, pursuing a dream, non-fiction, biography

Opening and brief synopsis:  “From the time he was a little boy, Tony Sarg loved to figure out how to make things move.  He once said he became a marionette man when he was only six years old.”  Melissa Sweet tells the true story of Tony Sarg, inventor of the huge balloons that are the trademark and centerpiece of the Macy’s Day Thanksgiving Parade in New York City.

Links to resources:  this story is perfect for a curriculum section that covers art, history, biography, or Thanksgiving, or just as a good story for children interested in where things come from and how they work.  Balloons Over Broadway Activity Kit.  (Please be patient – the activity kit loads slowly because of all the art but it’s well worth the wait!)  There is also a spread of interesting and helpful back matter at the end of the book to expand your lesson.

Why I like this book: this book is interesting, entertaining and educational.  Tony Sarg is an inspiration because he had little or no formal art education and yet he went on to pursue his dreams and become world-renowned for his work.  One of his apprentices, Bil Baird, created the “Lonely Goatherd” marionettes for The Sound Of Music, and one of Bil Baird’s apprentices was Jim Henson who invented The Muppets!

For the complete list of books with resources, please visit Perfect Picture Books.

Now, just one more quick thing before you head off to read everyone’s perfect picks for this week.

The Linda Ashman Rhyme Clinic!

As I mentioned somewhere at some point 🙂 the one and only Linda Ashman will be HERE!!! on Monday December 2 conducting a Rhyme Clinic!!!

The purpose of the Rhyme Clinic is to help writers with those pesky rhyming difficulties that snarl up our perfectly good works-in-progress!  Writers who have picture book manuscripts written in rhyme who feel that the rhyme is perhaps not working as well as they’d like are encouraged to submit samples and questions.

Any writer who would like Linda’s help may email the first 20 lines of their rhyming picture book manuscript along with any specific questions to susanna[at]susannahill[dot]com with “Rhyme Clinic Submission” in the subject line between now and Monday November 18.

I will forward the submissions on to Linda.

Linda’s reasoning for requesting the first 20 lines is that:  “Submitting the first stanzas of their story, up to 20 (or so) lines, I think works better than sending only problem stanzas because it gives me a decent sense of their story and allows me to comment on how well the stanzas work as a beginning in addition to how well they work as rhyme.”

Submissions will NOT be chosen on a first-come first-served basis.  Instead, Linda will look over the submissions and choose as wide a variety as possible in order to address as many types of problems as she can, and therefore hopefully help the greatest number of readers.

Linda will go over the chosen manuscripts in detail, examining what works well and what needs work and explaining how to correct problems in rhyme.

In the interest of keeping the Rhyme Clinic post to a manageable length, we will probably choose about 5 submissions.  If we get a lot of submissions, we will run another day or two of the clinic as  our schedules permit.

This promises to be a VERY interesting and informative learning experience.  It’s a chance to get expert guidance from one of the best in the business at no cost!

So dig out those troublesome rhyming manuscripts and send them forth on the double!

Enjoy this week’s crop of Perfect Picture Books, everyone!  PPBF bloggers, please be sure to leave your post-specific link in the list below so we can all come visit you!

Have a great weekend!!!

Oh, and P.S.  Great post with everyone’s favorite writerfella Mike Allegra on Monday, same Bat Time, same Bat Channel!  See you then! 🙂

Miscellaneous Monday

Good Monday, Everyone!

I hope you all had lovely weekends!

Remember on Friday when I was being so amazingly brief?  And I told you that I wanted to wax poetic about something but didn’t have time?

Well, lucky you!  Now I have time!

(But not too much, so don’t panic and run away :))

I am of the firm opinion, at least when it comes to my own writing, that there is always room for learning and improvement.  So I’ve always got my eye out for books and classes and such-like that might help me in my quest to be a better writer.  And it just so happens that I have discovered a gem!

And because you are my peeps I will share it with you 🙂

This gem of which I speak is Linda Ashman’s new Nuts And Bolts Guide To Writing Picture Books.  I’m sure you all know Linda – author of the fabulous No Dogs Allowed and 30 or so other wonderful picture books.  Well, I read her guide last weekend and loved it.  Tina Cho did a wonderful write up of it HERE along with an interview with Linda, so rather than reinvent the wheel I’ll just direct you over there if you want an in-depth review.

But if you’re interested in purchasing this excellent how-to book, which I highly recommend, it’s available in e-pub format ($15) or PDF ($20) and you can get copies at

I am happy to say that Linda has kindly offered a copy as a prize in an upcoming writing contest on this blog.  I think it will be for the Halloweensie Contest… but I’m still deciding… 🙂  So some talented writer will be able to win one here! 🙂

(And as long as we’re on the subject of Linda, I have more great news which is that she will be offering a Rhyme Clinic here on Monday December 2.  Full details will be provided in a future post, but mark your calendars for the day and all you rhymers get out your troublesome stanzas and get ready to send them in! :))

And now, given that it’s only about 3 weeks until the Halloweensie Contest and I’m sure you’re all anxious to have the guidelines so you can get started working on your stories, let’s have a chat about Halloween words, shall we?  Everyone please share one or more of your favorite Halloween-related words in the comments below!  And I was thinking I’d post the guidelines next Monday, which would give you just over 2 weeks to write your stories, but feel free to let me know in the comments if you think you need more time.  I can always post them in an extra special post somewhere 🙂

Have a marvelous Monday, everyone!  And don’t forget – Halloween words!!!

Now, I’m off to talk to a class of college students about a career in writing picture books.  Wish me luck (as having to stand up and talk to people over the age of 9 turns my knees to jelly!)