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Today’s author mentions many titles from one of my favorite authors of rhyme Lisa Wheeler. Have you read her books? If not, you MUST read them all to see what a true quality RPB entails.
I am so happy to have this very talented teacher/writer with us today! Look for more of his books coming soon!
I’m pleased to introduce
Author Rob Sanders
Author Rob Sanders
Finding Your Rhythm in Meter
By Rob Sanders
I love parades—have since I was a kid. I distinctly remember the Christmas parade back in Springfield, Missouri. Our entire family would bundle up and stand in front of the county court house waiting for the floats, bands, and, eventually, Santa. The drumline of each band would get my pulse racing. It was almost like I could feel the bass drum beats ricocheting off my chest. The syncopated rhythms always got the crowd cheering and clapping along.
Meter can do the same thing in rhyming picture books. Meter can quicken the pulse of the reader, provide the rhythm that drives the story forward, and cause the reader to cheer, “Read it again!”
A few years ago I was leading in-service training for teachers in my school district. Many of our Title I schools had been given sets of books to use as mentor texts to teach writing craft during writers’ workshop lessons. I was familiar with the books that filled the tub each school received because I’d spent several days reading all the books and creating a master list of the writing crafts in each book, the page numbers where examples could be found, and how each craft might be taught in a lesson.
During the training, small groups of teachers read through texts, used post-its to mark what they found, and then shared out their discoveries. One group read a passage from a picture book and started listing the writing crafts they had identified. “We found vivid verbs, and a simile.” I nodded my head in agreement, and then the teacher continued, “We also found rhyme and meter.” I must have given the women a funny look because she added, “Really, we did!”
I asked her to read the passage aloud again, and sure enough there was rhyme and meter. As many times as I had read that passage, I hadn’t heard it. Why? Because the rhymes were so perfect and the meter so fluid that the text flowed seamlessly. “What a great writer!” I gushed upon the discovery.
I’ve never had that experience again, but I have begun to discover something that most masters of rhyme do. They choose their meter specifically to fit the text they are writing. They find the rhythm that suits the story.
For instance, in AVALANCHE ANNIE, Lisa Wheeler (a true master rhymer) uses her meter to drive the forward momentum of the story, leaving us speeding forward with Annie as she outpaces an avalanche.
That avalanche was angry—
an awesome icy beast!
That wicked wonder wouldn’t stop
its power had increased.
As Yoohoos scurried downward,
their snowshoes lost their grip.
SNAP! That brute, in close pursuit,
cracked at them like a whip!
In MAMMOTHS ON THE MOVE, Lisa uses the same meter, but adds an additional foot. The pace slows, and I feel like I’m traveling side-by-side with these plodding, pre-historic pachyderms.
The oldest mother led the way
across the steppes both night and day.
The females followed in her tracks,
majestic glaciers at their backs.
Rivers ran across their path
But mammoths didn’t mind a bath.
They raised their snorkel-trunks up high
And swam with noses to the sky.
I know Lisa Wheeler, and I’ve heard her speak at boot camps and conferences. She has professionally critiqued many of my manuscripts, and I’ve adopted her as one of my mentors. I don’t think the meter she used in each of these books happened by accident. I think Lisa intentionally chose the meter she would use in each book so it would contribute to the overall impact of the story she was telling.
Another strategy for choosing the meter that will create the rhythm in the story you are writing is to look to existing and familiar metric schemes. Examples include ONCE UPON A TWICE by Denise Doyen which uses the same meter as “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll, and THE SOLDIERS’ NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS by Trish Holland and Christine Ford which is based on the Christmas classic THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Since I seem to be leading us through an author study of Lisa Wheeler’s rhyming picture books, let’s examine an excerpt from her SPINSTER GOOSE: TWISTED RHYMES FOR NAUGHTY CHILDREN which uses the rhyming structure and meter of many well-known nursery rhymes as inspiration.
Peas porridge hot.
(I hate this food a lot.)
Peas porridge cold.
(All moldy, green, and old.)
Peas porridge thin.
(In slimy gelatin.)
Peas porridge thick.
(I think I’m feeling sick.)
A strong meter anchors the reader in the story. Meter also serves as a road sign to readers—a road sign that directs them on their reading journey. Meter can dictate the pace at which a story is read, what words are emphasized, and what feeling is created. In all fairness, meter is not the only road sign that readers use on their reading journeys. Other road signs that dictate how a reader reads a piece of literature include punctuation, vocabulary, the use of all caps, onomatopoeias, line breaks, placement of words on a page, intentional interruption in the flow/meter, and, of course, the rhyme choices themselves. The importance of meter, however, cannot be over emphasized.
My challenge to you, my fellow rhyming picture book writer, is to create the road signs that will take your readers on a successful and marvelous journey. Find the rhythm or meter that will dictate how a reader will travel through your story. Don’t leave your meter to chance; don’t let it be half-done, awkward, or inconsistent; don’t settle for a metric pattern just because it seems comfortable or familiar. Find your rhythm and make it work for, and contribute to your writing. In the end, your readers will be cheering, “Read it again!”
Want to Dig In Deeper?
Do you want to study more about meter? Head straight to rhymeweaver.com where author, friend, and fellow Florida SCBWI member, Lane Frederickson, will enlighten, entertain, and inform you.
There are many forms of meter and many poets challenge themselves to try out various metric patterns in their writing. If you want to see a master poet at work, subscribe to Jane Yolen’s “Poem A Day.” Jane often challenges herself (and her readers) with new, different, or unfamiliar metric schemes.
Do you know about the Poetry Foundation? You should check it out so you can get a crash course on various forms of meter!
Rob Sanders does not work as a telephone sales rep, a loading dock worker, a trophy engraver, or an editor. But he used to. Rob is not a cowboy, a ballerina, an alien, or a temper-tantrum-throwing toddler. But he writes about them. Rob is a picture book author and a writing teacher. He worked for fifteen years in religious educational publishing as a writer, editor, editorial manager, and product designer. These days he teaches elementary kids about books, and writes books for those same kids.
Since focusing on picture book writing eight years ago, Rob has sold six picture books to three major publishing houses. His first picture book, COWBOY CHRISTMAS, was released by Golden Books/Random House in 2012. OUTER SPACE BEDTIME RACE (listed among the top twenty rhyming picture books of 2015) was released by Random House Children’s Books in January 2015. RUBY ROSE—OFF TO SCHOOL SHE GOES (the first in a two-book deal with HarperCollins) releases in 2016. Other titles coming soon include: RUBY ROSE—BIG BRAVOS (HarperCollins 2017), RODZILLA (Simon & Schuster, 2017), and A FLAG FOR HARVEY (Random House Children’s Books, 2018). Rob also coordinates the Rising Kite Writing Contest for SCBWI Florida, organizes meetings for SCBWI Florida members in the Tampa Bay area, and coaches and critiques other picture book writers.
Pre-Order for June 2016
Thank You Rob!
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