RhyPiBoMo 2015 Day 20
Laura Purdie Salas
Today’s guest blogger is an award-winning author with over 120 children’s books published to date. She says her first love is poetry and several of her latest books are in rhyme. She and author, Lisa Bullard, offer critiques, consultations, and guide books for children’s writers at Mentors for Rent. We can all use a second opinion on our work so stop by and let them take a peek. I am also very excited about the latest book in their series for writers called RHYMING PICTURE BOOKS: THE WRITE WAY. I immediately bought it read it cover to cover. It is full of great information that is pertinent to why we are all here! Check it out!
Buy It Here
I am so happy to introduce
today’s guest blogger,
Laura Purdie Salas.
READER AGE AND MANUSCRIPT LENGTH: KEEP THOSE NUMBERS LOW!
The rhyming picture books that are being published today most often target the younger edge of the picture book market. Occasionally there are nonfiction rhyming picture books that appeal to elementary-school readers, but the true sweet spot for most rhyming picture books is the preschool set.
A problem that often crops up when Mentors for Rent is critiquing rhyming verse manuscripts is that many of them actually target older readers, even upper elementary-aged readers. We usually have to advise the writer to revise their work so that it is a better fit for all those editors who seem to prefer preschool-appropriate picture books. Pieces in rhyming verse for an older elementary audience might work well as poems published in magazines that target these older readers, but they usually won’t work as well for picture books.
So when approaching your rhyming picture book, remember to shrink your vision to a time when you were knee-high in the world!
And don’t just shrink your vision—shrink your word count! Rhyming picture books, like picture books in general, are shrinking! Many new rhyming picture books are 100 words or less. It takes restraint and creativity to tell a story in so few words.
Some of my favorite rhyming picture books feature just four or five words per spread. What can you cover in so few words? A lot!
* Think Big, by Liz Garton Scanlon, follows kids putting on a show—in 61 words.
* An Island Grows, by Lola M. Schaefer, shows the formation of a new island in 119 words.
* Eight Days Gone, by Linda McReynolds, tells the true story of the Apollo 11 mission of 1969 (155 words).
So, you’re not off the hook for covering a lot of ground in a very short book. The key is to make every word count. Avoid filler words like “the” and “a” when you can. Delete useless words like “very” and “so.” We often see writers using these words just to make the rhythm work. But every single word needs to contribute to story and mood. It can’t just be short. It has to be short and evocative, specific, and meaningful!
Here’s a not-great quatrain:
Kids are singing very loud
Kids are singing very proud
Voices carry, sure and strong
Not a single note is wrong
That’s 21 words, and it does tell us information—that the kids are singing loud and singing well.
Here’s how Liz Garton Scanlon conveys that in Think Big:
Four words. That’s it. And “pitch” rhymes with “stitch” on the next page.
In Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s All Aboard, she describes trains whistling across prairies and through storms, always staying on schedule. You could write that in a boring way, like:
Across the dark and quiet plain
there goes a racing, whistling train.
Over prairies and mountains they climb.
Even through storms, they stay on time.
Not Dotlich. She writes:
Trains whistle through prairies,
a long, steel sweep.
Through thunder and wind,
they have schedules to keep.
Dotlich’s version is eight words shorter and more compelling and vivid!
Start out with a situation or topic that will either be familiar to preschoolers (or, at the oldest, primary grade students) or will fascinate them. Explore or celebrate your topic using few words, and make sure all your words are fabulous ones! Then you’ll be on your way to writing a fantastic rhyming picture book!
–Laura Purdie Salas and Lisa Bullard
The material in this post is excerpted from Rhyming Picture Books: The Write Way, by Laura Purdie Salas and Lisa Bullard. Laura is the author of more than 120 books, including several rhyming picture books, such as A Rock Can Be…, Water Can Be…, and Move It! Work It! A Song About Simple Machines. Lisa Bullard is the author of more than 80 books for young readers, including her middle grade mystery novel Turn Left at the Cow. Her first published book was a rhyming picture book called Not Enough Beds! Laura and Lisa offer critiques, consultations, and guide books for children’s writers at Mentors for Rent.
As a kid, Laura Purdie Salas devoured books. Her big sisters, Gail, Patty, and Janet, taught her to read when she was 4, and she read for hours every day, despite constant orders from her parents to “Go outside and get some fresh air!” Since she grew up in Florida, she heard these dreaded words all year long. If she was forced outside, she climbed up to the treehouse or lay on the trampoline, reading.
Books were like pieces of magic, conjured up to entertain her, keep her company, and show her the whole world before disappearing into the library return drop as if they had never existed. It never occurred to her that real people actually wrote those books.
College was the first time she considered a career in the publishing field. After graduating with an English degree, she worked first as a magazine editor, and then as an 8th-grade English teacher. While teaching, she rediscovered her love for children’s literature. She began to focus on children’s writing, and she never looked back.
Laura has published more than 120 books for kids and teens. Although she’s written many nonfiction books, her first love is poetry. Her books include the award-winning BOOKSPEAK! POEMS ABOUT BOOKS (Clarion, 2011—Minnesota Book Award, NCTE Notable, Bank Street Best Book, Eureka! Gold Medal, and more), and the rhyming nonfiction books A LEAF CAN BE… (Millbrook, 2012–Bank Street Best Books, IRA Teachers’ Choice, Riverby Award for Nature Books for Young Readers, and more) and WATER CAN BE…. (Millbrook, 2014). She enjoys helping kids find poems they can relate to, no matter what their age, mood, and personality.
Laura and her family live in the Minneapolis areas, and she still devours books.
See more about Laura and her work at http://www.laurasalas.com
WATER CAN BE… (Millbrook Press, 2014 – STARRED reviews in Kirkus and Publishers Weekly)
A LEAF CAN BE… (Millbrook Press, 2012)
BOOKSPEAK! POEMS ABOUT BOOKS (Clarion, 2011)
and more than 100 nonfiction books for kids
RhyPiBoMo 2015 Optional Writing Prompt: 20
This is NOT part of the pledge. It is an option for a writing exercise for those interested. You will not publically share this as part of RhyPiBoMo but may keep a journal of your writing this month for your own review.
Today’s writing prompt is to write one of your rhyming manuscripts in 100 words or less. Next, try it in 75 words, and then in 50 words…
Bad Bye, Good Bye by Deborah Underwood
Congratulations to Week 4 Prize Winners
Monday Manuscript Critique by Kristy Dempsey(Under 500 words)
Winner – Stephanie Salkin
Tuesday Copy of BLUE ON BLUE Donated by Dianne White
Winner – Charlotte Dixon
Wednesday Copy of A POETRY HANDBOOK Donated by Dianne White
Winner – Carrie Charley Brown
Thursday Manuscript Critique by Lori Mortensen (under 1000 words)
Winner – Al Lane
Friday Copy of The 20th CENTURY CHILDREN’S POETRY TREASURE Donated by Dianne White
Winner – Sherri Jones Rivers
Winners, PLEASE message me your information on Facebook
or email it to Angiekarcherrpbm@gmail.com
A Friday night BIG Finale Rhyming Party!
Do you enjoy writing rhyming picture books?
Do you find rhyme challenging?
Do you want to pep up your prose with poetic techniques?
Then this is the class for you!
Writing in Rhyme to WOW! is a 4 week course,
M-F with daily lessons, writing prompts, rhyme journaling, creating tools you will use, group poetry readings, webinars and critique groups, and a one-on-one webinar critique with Angie.
Each class begins on the first Monday of the month and the weekly group webinars are on Thursdays at 8:00 p.m. Central Standard Time, (Chicago Time) or at a time that best suits the group due to time zones of those involved.
I am beginning to sign people up for June and July!
If you register now for June or July, I will give you the $99.00 price!
Contact Angie with questions.
Sign up now before the classes are full!
Click here for more information!
Need a Rhyming Picture Book Critique?
rhyming picture book and poetry manuscript critiques.
A One Time critique is ($25.00) or a Twice Look critique is ($35.00)
See the tab above or click here for more information.
RhyPiBoMo Gift Shop is Open!
Please stop by and see what’s available this year. There are notebooks, mugs, buttons and more. All proceeds will go to WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS!
Thank you Tanja Bauerle for these gorgeous images!!!
130 thoughts on “RhyPiBoMo Day 20 Laura Purdie Salas”
Rita Allmon– Thanks, Laura, for this helpful post.
Thanks, Rita–glad you liked it!
Laura, thank you for the detailed examples of sparse rhyming and the challenge to write a 100 word rhyming text. I’m off to find Water Can Be.
I have really enjoyed Laura’s work – especially Bookspeak- Poems about Books! I agree that shorter is sweeter!
Thank you, Vicki:>)
I hope you enjoy it. I tried and discarded many topics before finding ones that could work for this really short format. It’s a challenge, for sure!
Laura, Thank you for your enlightening post. Today will be a day of editing out those little extras. – Judy Rubin
Have fun editing, Judy!
For me, age appropriateness is indeed a big challenge. thanks for the great advice!
Me, too, Stephanie. Rhyming is so fun that I tend to think I can make it work with almost any story/topic. Sadly, I am wrong:>)
Some great advice thank you. I am now looking at my next story in a different light.
Terrific, Heather–so glad you found it useful!
Thanks for this. A very challenging post! I’m going to try rewriting one of my stories in a hundred words, but have to admit I’m concerned that in doing so I’ll lose my “voice”. Also, part of me wonders where this drive to reduce word count will end. Making every word count is key, whether that’s in 800 words, or 80!
– Al Lane
Good point, Al. I think in very short rhyming picture books, while the words are still crucial, the illustrations are even more important in establishing mood and pace than in longer picture books. And I guess it will end in all wordless books? Just kidding! I do not like wordless books! But I do love short picture books (and teachers and parents seem to, as well). It’s a fast-paced world we’re living in…You are sure right about the point that every word has to matter, no matter WHAT the length of your ms is. Happy writing!
I loved A Leaf Can Be . . . Good post with great advice. I’ve reviewed a lot of picture books and when the story rhymes, every word is needed. I love the books you mentioned, along with your examples of cutting word counts. Here is an interesting picture book that may be hard to beat:
Ah Ha! by Jeff Mack, (Chronicle Books – 2013) Reviewed here: http://bit.ly/JeffMackAhHa
Mr. Mack uses only two–2!–LETTERS. I think he then used 6 words made from “A” an “H.”, but I could be off by one or two words. Ah Ha! was one of the funniest picture books in 2013, with the illustrations telling 99% of the story. Mr. Mack also makes a good case for having the ability to illustrate your book, keeping your vision intact.
Yep, that was an interesting one! And have you seen MOO, by David LaRochelle and Mike Wohnoutka? That’s the only word in the book, but it tells a whole story. I love books like this for the same reason I adore rhyming books–that puzzle aspect, and the playing with language. It’s so much fun! Thanks, Sue!
Ooh, I think I’m guilty of this. Just the reminder I needed with some helpful examples. Thanks, Laura!
Sure thing, Rebecca. (And–I’m guilty of it, too!)
Elaine Hillson – Great post with good advice on the need to make every word count. I am guilty of writing picture book texts that are much too long. Trimming the fat is something I need to work on.
Thanks, Elaine. Today’s picture book market demands such short texts (generally) that it’s really changing the kinds of stories we tell, I think. I like the super-short approach, but it often requires not just trimming fat but re-envisioning the whole structure of your piece. Oi…
Rebecca Trembula – I frequently use a version of today’s writing prompt but I’ve never taken it quite that far before! Good advice, both about making the words count and about targeting the right age group!
Thank you Laura – I needed that reminder – reader age and word count. Now time to stop and reevaluate some recent work.
(P.S. Nice to see another Minneapolis area person here 🙂 )
Glad it was helpful, Clark. I have to remind myself of these (and other) truths over and over again. I’m hoping eventually it will just be ingrained in my skull! Woot for the Twin Cities!
Well, that assuages my worry that 189 words is too short. Thank you for the tips and concrete examples. Also, Sue Morris, thanks for pointing out Ah Ha!
Hehehe. Nope, 189 is not too short, assuming they’re 189 great words. No pressure, right?
Terrific post, Laura! Great examples and ideas!
Thanks so much, Pat!
Laura, I love your books! Thanks so much for the reminders about age appropriateness and word count.
Aw, thanks, Daryl–I appreciate that! Happy writing:>)
Wonderful examples of the conservation of words always makes the manuscript better. A great lesson for every genre. Thanks so much for the post.
Thanks, Deborah! And you’re right–writing tight is always a good thing!
Laura, Thank you for sharing ways to improve our rhyming PB manuscripts. Your examples are helpful. – Manju Howard
Thanks, Manju–happy writing!
Very interesting and informative post, but I also wonder where the drive to reduce word count will end.
Hi, Diana–Well, there is that. I love short picture books, but I hate wordless ones. So I’m crossing my fingers that 50-word books is about as low as we’ll go…
Laura, this is a great reminder to make every single word count. I’m excited to try and write a very sparse rhyming manuscript with your tips!
Thanks, Kirsti–and have fun going short!
Great post about age appropriateness! I have enjoyed reading Bookspeak!
Oh, thanks so much, Lynn–I appreciate that:>)
Ann Kelley – Thank you for a very informative post, Laura! I can’t wait to read your Rhyming Picture Books book!! YEAH!
Love your enthusiasm, Ann! Have fun writing rhyming mss. I think they’re a blast (though they take a while to get the hang of, in my opinion)!
the best way to word count low is to pick strong verbs and make every single word count. It works but often involves the long process of whittling away parts of text little by little until the story is solid. A rhyming text that tells a how story in only 50 or 75 words…not easy.
Excellent point–strong verbs are the workhorses of great picture books! You’re right that it’s not easy. I tried several “scientific process” stories before writing A Leaf Can Be…, and I just couldn’t make the vocabulary and age range work. Someday…
Elizabeth Saba- extremely helpful post. Thank you and thank you for the practice suggestions. Loving this month with all of you.
Thanks, Elizabeth–I’m traveling lots this month, but I can’t wait to come back and read all the posts I’ve missed!
great post and timely as i am revising my first rhyming picture book now! thanks.
karen nordseth roos
So glad it was useful, Karen. Happy revising!
I’m going to embrace this post and the writing challenge today. Picked up your writing in rhyme book too, thanks!
Thank you, Rachel–I hope you find the book helpful! Happy writing:>)
I feel like this post was written for me 🙂 Thank you! Karen Affholter
Yay! I love it when our thoughts really connect with a writer at just the right time. Thanks, Karen!
Thanks for a great post with examples, Laura. Think I’ll try that writing challenge with my WIP. Happy rhyming! 🙂 Rene` Aube
So glad you liked it, Rene’!
Thanks for the great pointers, Laura. I love your leaf, water & rock books–you do it so well.
Two new favorites of mine that meet this criteria are April Pulley Sayre’s Raindrops Roll and Helen Frost’s Sweep Up the Sun. And both have stunning photographs!
Aw, thanks so much, Maria. I LOVE April’s latest book. The joy and awe that comes through her rhymes is just amazing. I also loved Helen’s Step Gently Out and can’t wait to see her new one. Great recommendations!
It’s as if a light bulb switched on in my brain. Thank you for the fantastic examples of ‘meh’ rhyme and ‘wow’ rhyme.
Wow, thank you for that lovely feedback. I’m so glad our examples clicked for you!
Great lesson in writing succinct poetry.
I applaud your use of lyrical language for NF! Both A Leaf Can… and Water Can… are wonderful books.
Thank you so much, Natasha. I appreciate it:>)
Great examples, Laura! Thank you. Lynne Marie Pisano
Thanks, Lynne Marie! (Did I meet you at Chautauqua in 2003?)
Thanks, Laura, for the important reminders and the nonfiction connection to rhyming possibilities. Val McCammon
I’m glad you liked it, Val. Nonfiction and rhyme are such a fantastic pair to me:>)
I hate the idea of low word count, but I love the results of whittling away unneeded words. The results are usually so powerful! Keep whittling! Darlene Ivy
Yes! That cutting down leaves meaning only the few best words!
I knew brevity was the soul of wit – but now also of rhyming picture books? Ack! I’m such a wordy writer. But this will get me practicing. Thank you! –Katey Howes
I used to struggle with word count, but I’ve discovered a lot of that is solved by choosing the right storyline or nf concept to write about. There are some stories you just CAN’T tell in 100 words. But there are lots you can. Happy practicing!
Awesome advice! I recently cut a preschool-targeted rhyming manuscript in half…it is 143 words now…maybe still too long? Thank you for the great read! – Maria Oka
Great job on cutting! 143 definitely is in the right ballpark. Now it’s a matter of making sure every word is pulling its weight, fun to read, works in the meter, etc. Boy, rhyming picture books are hard. But it sounds like you’re on the right track!
Thanks for the post. It is so hard to pare things down to their essence, but so vital. Katie Gast
Very true, Katie–a constant battle:>)
Rita Antoinette Borg a really great article. What a difference some words make for a rhyming picture book. Thanks for the info.
Thanks, Rita! Yep, reading these great examples reminds me how important fresh, vivid language is–it’s way too easy to default to the same old same old!
It sounds like a great book!
If you meant my Rhyming Picture Books the Write Way (written with Lisa Bullard), thanks! And if you mean any of the sample books–yes! They are fabulous!
Melanie Ellsworth – Laura – thank you for the excellent examples of ways that authors have kept word count low and lyricism high! I love following your blog, and my daughter and I are big fans of WATER CAN BE.
Thanks so much, Melanie:>)
Laura thanks for sharing of how to write more concise. Thanks for your helpful suggestions. I enjoyed your book Water Can Be. Therese Nagi
Thank you, Therese! I hope you can put the suggestions to good use. Happy writing!
Ginger Weddle- great post! I am looking forward to reading RHYMING PICTURE BOOKS: THE WRITE WAY.
Thanks, Ginger! I hope you find it super useful!
Thanks for the information, Laura. I will check out Rhyming Picture Books: The Write Way.
Thanks, Sarah–I hope you like it! Happy writing:>)
Helpful information. Thanks for the examples of the published work. It proves it can be done.
Thanks, Kathy. And I do find it so helpful to refer back to excellent rhyming books to remind me of how well really short texts can be done–it’s worth the struggle!
Sandy Powell — I’m not on board yet with smaller word count picture books. I enjoy the longer ones much better. I never feel satisfied reading a shorter one. Although, I admit for rhyming picture books I totally get the smaller word count. For some reason it makes sense to me. Thanks for a great post. I loved the examples.
Thanks for weighing in, Sandy. Some folks (mostly adults) do enjoy longer picture books. I assume pubs are finding that kids and busy parents/teachers are responding better to really short ones. I do think that really short works extra well with rhyming books, as you said. I think it’s because the rhyme and meter just get TOO sing-song and repetitive when the book drags on for a while.
I recently bought “Rhyming Picture Books: The Write Way” and am looking forward to reading it and learning more about creating rhyming picture books. I guess I’ll get started on it tonight!
Oops. This is from Kristi Veitenheimer.
Thanks, Kristi! I hope you find it really useful. It’s a really fun and challenging form to work in–maybe you’ll find that it’s right up your alley. Happy writing!
Thanks! I hope you find it really useful. It’s a really fun and challenging form to work in–maybe you’ll find that it’s right up your alley. Happy writing!
Jill Proctor – Thanks, Laura. It is such a challenge writing pb’s with few words…but I’m enjoying the challenge. Thank you for your inspiration. 🙂 Also, is your book, Rhyming Picture Books: The Write Way, available in print? Love your books!
It IS a challenge, Jill! But a fun one, like solving a puzzle. Our book is available in paperback, too. It’s only available on Amazon.com. If you look it up there, you should see 2 editions, the Kindle one and a paperback one. Good luck with your writing!
Shirley Johnson – Great post!
Thanks, Shirley–glad you enjoyed it!
Joanne Sher SO appreciates this info – it’s gold. Thanks so much, Laura!
I love to hear that, Joanne–thank you!
Deirdre Englehart. Thank you Laura, great Post. I was just reviewing a 300 word ms., way too long!
Thanks, Deirdre! Isn’t it astonishing how so few words can actually feel too long now?