There’s nothing worse than a bad rhyming kids’ book… and one evening as I was writing a post about lousy kids’ rhyme, I desperately needed good rhymes for contrast (and to stop my heart from breaking).
Which led me to Andrea Beaty, the Queen of them All when it comes to contemporary children’s verse… and the wonderful idea of interviewing her for my blog.
Perfection in rhyme
As an aspiring rhymer, I was super, super honoured that she agreed. It has been far too long since I ran an interview. Believe it or not, it’s one of the less easy things I do here, because I put a lot of work into researching the writer or illustrator I’m profiling. Work like reading through books for great examples… like this one:
Six clever sheep in the new art museum
Some pose like a statue so no one will see ‘em.
Hooves click on marble
They dance and they play
With Salvador Dali, van Gogh and Monet.
(from Hide and Sheep)
I’m sure the big question on your mind when it comes to Andrea Beaty is probably how to pronounce her name.
(What do you mean, “No, it isn’t?”)
Well, never fear: the answer’s here (anyway)! “Rhymes with lady,” says her website, helpfully, probably in response to a million interviewers who have pronounced it to rhyme with either “sweetie” or “sweaty.” That’s why I do email interviews… spares subjecting writers to my mispronunciations.
Making a name in STEM
Iggy Peck, Architect, led the way, about a boy whose odd architecture obsession saves the day. And its followup, Rosie Revere, Engineer, has been received with great applause among all those who think girls and women should enter these fields as well (well, duh).
She comes by it honestly, with her own background in biology and computer science, but Andrea doesn’t just write STEM stuff. Indeed, one reason I wanted to chat with her is the diversity of her oeuvre. By some amazing coincidence, totally beyond my control, just as I sat down to write up this interview today, two of Andrea’s books came in the mail today: Secrets of the Cicada Summer, a chapter book, and Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies, which I figured my 6-year-old son would just love. English-language books are a rarity here, so I’m thrilled to have a chance to pore through these in person.
I also picked up a copy of Iggy Peck, Architect locally in Hebrew – it’s called “Shayka Gal, Adrichal,” which translate but doesn’t (in my opinion) have quite the same tone. This is her only Hebrew book, though Andrea says she also has had books translated into Welsh and Slovenian, Korean and Mandarin… though, unfortunately, not into Spanish, the mother tongue of many kids right there in the U.S.
Translating a rhyming book presents its own challenges, but if a book is strong enough in its theme and art, I’m happy that editors are willing to take the chance on an international audience.
Anyway, on to the interview, which actually turned into a bit of a mini-class in the how and how NOT of writing great kids’ verse. Read on to learn from this consummate pro! As usual, the first 2 questions are standard – I ask everybody the same things. The third is one I make up specially for each author. And this time around, we get a bonus fourth “question” I made up to suit the fabulous, detailed answer Andrea provided.
WriteKidsBooks (WKB): How is a kids' book different from an adult book (the most important difference(s), in your opinion)?
Andrea Beaty (AB): The biggest difference is pacing. Kids are busy. They don’t have time to stick around for five pages before a book reveals what it is about. Writing has to be interesting and can be as lyrical as with adult fiction, but you have to get to the point a lot faster.
(nice – she’s got great taste!)
WKB: Do you consider yourself a "natural" at rhyme? Is that a prerequisite for anyone who wants to write in verse?
AB: I think that prose picture books are about poetry while rhyming books are about music. I do think that I have a knack for rhyme. Mostly, because I like to sing jingles a lot. I believe that people have an affinity for rhyme or don’t. Much like some people are funny and some are not. Even people who are not funny can say funny things now and again. That doesn’t make pursuing a career as a stand-up comedian a good use of time. Personally, I find that my books tell me if they are rhyming books or not. They arrive in my brain in rhyme or they arrive as prose and no amount of fiddling can change the form.
WKB: What do writers do wrong when they’re trying to write a rhyming kids’ book?
AB: Writing in rhyme adds to the challenge of telling the story concisely. Sometimes, the set-up for a rhyme adds length to a sentence. You have to be vigilant so the pace keeps moving and all the required bits are included without watering down the story.
I think there are two pitfalls that people encounter when writing rhyme:
- They insist on writing in rhyme when there is not a good reason to do so. While kids (and editors) love good rhyme, they hate bad rhyme. It’s worse than fingernails on a chalkboard. You will know in your gut if it’s a good rhyming story or not. Follow that intuition.
- Using bland word choice leads to lackluster rhymes. Invest in a Flip Dictionary and a good thesaurus so you have great words to begin with. Then, use your rhyming dictionary to explore all the possible rhymes. It will make your rhymes stronger and can even inform the plot.
I suppose the biggest piece of advice I could offer is to write to your strengths. Don’t try to write in rhyme because you think editors want that. Editors want great books.
There might be trends for this or that, but those are started by great books. Write your own great book. If you are not comfortable with rhyme, don’t do it. If you are not comfortable with funny, don’t do that either. Trying to figure out what other people want will just slow you down on the quest to writing the story you must tell!
Watch Andrea talking about Rosie Revere, Engineer over here (hey, I rhymed!):
Andrea’s next project, with David Roberts, the illustrator who did Iggy Peck and Rosie Revere, is Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau, which will be released in September. Being a bit of a hat fan myself, I just can’t wait.
You can visit Andrea’s own site here.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve found writing your own stories in verse? How can Andrea’s advice help you?