Saturday, March 22, 2014

Three tips to write kids’ rhymes that don’t suck.

I’ve talked about rhyme before… but today, I’m here to help you make your rhymes better.

Let’s imagine we’re writing a cute rhyming book about a little penguin named Bridget.  Here’s Bridget:

Let’s introduce her – along the with the central story problem – with a rhyming couplet:

Bridget’s a penguin who lives by the sea
But when it comes to fish, she’s rather picky.

We’re off to a great start, except…this rhyme sucks.

Here are three tips to tweak your own rhymes and help make Bridget’s story great along the way!

1.  Meter, meter, meter

It’s not enough for the last syllable to rhyme – if the syllables don’t match up, you don’t have a rhyme.  Sorry, every Jewish kids’ book that’s been published in the last forever, but it’s true.

Brid get’s a peng uin who lives by the sea  
But when it comes to fish she’s ra ther pi cky

Waah!  An extra syllable.  No wonder it sucks.  Let’s try to trim it a bit tighter.  The first line has ten syllables, which is a nice round number.  Let’s keep it and fix the second line instead.

Brid get’s a peng uin who lives by the sea
But she won’t eat fish; she’s far too pi cky.

Better – a little.

2.  Don’t force the rhyme.

Time to write the next couplet about Bridget.

Fish were what Bridget could really not stand.
But sandwiches were the best that she planned.

Yay!  It rhymes.  But, um, when was the last time you “planned” a sandwich???

Seriously, you can’t force the words.  “Planned” isn’t a word we think of in connection with sandwich.  You can’t get so stuck on a word you love (“stand”) that you can’t find a really decent rhyme that makes sense.  Using a rhyming site like RhymeZone (cautiously!!), I can come up with a slightly better version that lets me keep the word I like:

Fish were what Bridget could really not stand.
”No fish, mum!” she’d cry, her royal command.

Better – a little.

3.  Make it move the story!

Here’s what I come up with next, and this time, I think it’s absolutely brilliant:

She played upon a lute and zither
Came home daily all a-dither.

It sure is a nice, sweet rhyme.  Too bad it sucks!  If I keep these lines in the book, it’s probably because I’ve fallen in love with them and not my story.

How are these lines connected to the first two couplets?  We’re dying to hear more about this picky little penguin and her eating habits… not about her musical hobbies.  And what the heck does a dithering penguin look like?  Let’s try these lines instead:

And so her mother quickly learned
To make a sandwich, unconcerned.

Better – a little.

Here’s what we’ve got so far:

Bridget’s a penguin who lives by the sea,
But she won’t eat fish; she’s rather picky.

Fish were what Bridget could really not stand.
”No fish, mum!” she’d cry, her royal command.

And so her mother quickly learned
To make a sandwich, unconcerned.

I’ll be honest, it’s still not great, but it’s a start, and it’s better.  So often, I’ve seen these three rules violated, and the result is awful, awful, awful. 

At least if you let these three tips guide you, you have a penguin’s chance in sandwichland of coming up with a great children’s story in rhyme.

Some helpful further reading:

Bonus challenge:  can you dream up a new couplet to add to Bridget’s story???  If you can, toss in a link to your blog, your book, whatever you want, so other visitors can come find you!


  1. Jennifer, I'll try this again, I just wrote you a comment and when I clicked on the publish button, the whole thing disappeared. So if this is the second time you see this, I apologize.

    This is a good post, thank you.

    Here is my couplet:

    Bridget wouldn't eat shad, cod or striped trout.
    If she was served them, she'd spit the fish out.

    On your second line, you might consider changing the "rather" to " much too."

    Besides the Highlight's Founders Workshops in Poetry, do you know of other workshops for writing children's poetry?

    I publish a children's poem a day and a writing prompt for kids on my blog at Drop by and you will find lots of poems still in draft form with really bad meter--but I am getting better.

  2. @Joy, it only came through once, but I know the frustration. I use firefox with a free add-on called Lazarus the remembers form fields so I have to do less retyping these days. I also ALWAYS highlight my entire comment and hit ctrl-C (copy) before I click submit, because I have been there, done that, WAY too many times.

    It's great to meet somebody else who's as passionate about kids' rhymes. I will check out your kids' poetry site and have included a link here so others can as well. :-)

    Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Good post. Rhyming is so much harder than people realize. You can't just have the last word rhyme. I have learned through the years that there's so much more to it than that. I think one of the things you notice most is forced rhymes. There is a Rhyming Picture Book Month (RhyPiBoMo) starting in April over at Angie Karcher's blog. Here is the link, if you would like to give it a try. By the way, I use Rhymezone all the time, I love it.

  4. Wow - I had no idea this was going on. Thank you so much for pointing the way. Here's the link, for anyone else who's interested.


As always, I love to hear from you.