RhyPiBoMo 2016 Day 14 Author Heidi E. Y. Stemple

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I’m pleased to introduce

Author Heidi E.Y. Stemple

Heidi Stemple Headshot

Author Heidi E.Y. Stemple

Rhyming With a Partner

            I feel bad for writers who have to work hard to find a critique group.  My family is one big writer’s support group. Sometimes it feels like summer camp and sometimes it’s more like a twelve-step program, but, for better or worse, we all work in this business of children’s books and it’s our shared passion.  It’s no surprise that we all collaborate. My mother, author Jane Yolen, has written books with both my brothers and with me. We have all written one rather large book (Animal Stories, National Geographic Kids) together and are about to start on a second four-way collaboration.  It’s what we do. On any given day, there are dozens of family projects in the works.

You Nest Here With me

You Nest Here With Me

            So, how do we do it?  I can’t count the number of people who have said to me, “I could NEVER work with my mother.”  My easy answer is always, “but you could work with MY mother.”  And, it’s true.  My mother and I have been writing together for 22 years. We work on large projects and small.  We’ve written an adult collection together, close to 25 picture books, and numerous stories and even poems in collaboration. And, we manage this without killing each other. We banter and argue but we never leave angry.

Rhyming picture books are a special and delicate genre. You know we all love them when they’re done well. When all the elements line up, they are magic. But, we also love to hate the ones that just don’t work.  Yes, I admit to being a rhyming picture book snob.  When they are bad, they are awful.  It’s why we are discouraged by agents and editors from submitting rhymed manuscripts. Can you imagine having to read bad almost-but-not-quite-slant rhyme, mangled meter, and awkwardly flip-flopped sentence structure all day long?


Not All Princesses Dress In Pink

One way to prevent bad rhyme being sent out into the world is writing with a partner.  This provides you a built-in editor. One who isn’t afraid to (nicely or not) tell you that your rhyme isn’t working. What’s more, your partner has a real stake in it being fixed because his or her name will be on the cover right alongside yours.

My mother and I, working in collaboration, have written four rhymed picture books:  You Nest Here With Me, Not All Princesses Dress In Pink, Sleep Black Bear, Sleep, and Pretty Princess Pig.  All of them have been written by passing the manuscript back and forth.  One of us will begin and, when we come to a stopping spot, (which could be long sections or sometimes it’s even just a couple words at a time) we send the manuscript on to the other.  In all our works together, there are parts we have passed back and forth so many times we can’t remember who wrote what.  This back and forth is especially good for rhyming books because instead of having to figure out if your words read the way you intended, (or sounded in your head) you have a built-in fresh look at it every time.


Sleep Black Bear, Sleep

As in any critique situation, we try to be gentle.  Though, admittedly after a lifetime of knowing each other and so many years of writing together, we often forget our manners.  Phrases like, “that sucks,” or worse have made it into emails and sit-down sessions more than once.  But, since our shared purpose is a well-written rhyming read-aloud, we know that exacting critique is for the best.

Pretty Princess Pig

Pretty Princess Pig

The particular challenge with picture books is that there is no wiggle room. We have only 32 pages to play with.  We cannot waste words. The brevity and economy of the picture book does not make it easier to write—in fact– learning to work within the confines of the picture book rules makes it anything but!  When rhyming, this becomes even more of a challenge because of the additional puzzles of the rhyme, itself. Having a writing partner and built-in critique partner on board is one way to avoid some of the common mistakes rhyming writers can make.  But, really, the best reason to write your rhyming picture book with a partner is that writing can be a lonely business.  Sharing a project with a friend makes it a little less so.



Heidi didn’t want to be a writer when she grew up. In fact, after she graduated from college, she became a probation officer in Florida. It wasn’t until she was 28 years old that she gave in and joined the family business, publishing her first short story in a book called Famous Writers and Their Kids Write Spooky Stories. The famous writer was her mom, author Jane Yolen. Since then, she has published twenty books and numerous short stories and poems, mostly for children.

Heidi, her two daughters, her mom, and a couple cats live in Massachusetts on a big old farm with two book-filled houses.




Twitter  @heidieys



You Nest Here With me






Pretty Princess Pig


Thank You Heidi!

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85 thoughts on “RhyPiBoMo 2016 Day 14 Author Heidi E. Y. Stemple

  1. Julie Schuh

    I really enjoyed your post, Heidi. Writing can be lonely! My son exhibited a gift for rhyme at an early age. I’m thinking just maybe…

  2. Joana Pastro
    Love your books! Love this post! My mother works with education and has published a couple of non-fiction books for children in Brazil. You made me wonder about the possibility of partnering with her. 🙂 Thanks!

  3. Melanie Ellsworth – Partner writing sounds like a joy, Heidi. I’ll make it a goal to try it out with a future project.

  4. Charlotte Dixon
    Thank you, Heidi, for sharing the focus and inspiration of team writing. You and your Mom give us those rhyming books which beckon us back time and again. I look forward to your future projects 🙂

  5. Wow, Heidi! How inspiring and insightful your post was on writing with a partner (and the perk to come from a writing family).
    Keep those books coming…we ❤ them.
    Aimee Haburjak

  6. Judy Sobanski – Thank you, Heidi, for sharing what a wonderful writing team you have found with your family, especially your mom. The books you have created together are wonderful. It makes me look forward to sharing with my critique partners!

  7. Sara Gentry
    How lovely to have a wonderful working relationship with your mother! I recently enjoyed reading Sleep, Black Bear, Sleep.

  8. Anita Jones
    Thanks Heidi for sharing your thoughts and suggestions! I loved reading about your history with your mother in writing! That’s so great. I love your work and the inspiration you’ve shared in this post.

  9. NATALIE LYNN TANNER: Hi Heidi! I have truly enjoyed your An Unsolved Mystery from History series. My niece is a HUGE mystery/detective fan, so she was excited when I turned her onto your books! I look forward to reading more of your books, including those you and your Mom have penned together. I can see why having a writing/rhyming partner can be helpful. Almost like a jogging partner, to call you out on frosty, cold mornings to exercise, a writing partner can help call you to your keyboard — helping you be accountable for your work. THANK YOU for the inspiration and your WONDERFUL stories!

  10. Lori Laniewski- Thank you for a terrific post. I am looking forward to reading more of your writing. PS In another life, I was your best friend…I slept over at your house nearly every night.

  11. Shelley Kinder

    Awesome hearing about the great working/writing relationship you have with your mother. I could see my husband and I (or my mom and I) writing a book together some day. My kids are young, but I’d love to write a book with them too as they get older.

  12. Ingrid Boydston- Thanks for sharing your experiences with your mom. My secret critique-er is my 14 year old daughter. She has no qualms about pointing out flaws in my rhyme, meter or story arcs. Therefore, when she says something is “good” I know I have a keeper. Maybe one day we’ll get to work together too! 🙂

  13. Deborah Allmand
    Heidi, I have often wondered how writing with a partner would be but really never considered a family member. You’re a better person than I chosing to write with a family member. Thanks for the blog.

  14. Janet Smart. Great post. I would love to have an in-house critique partner and fellow writer. I do have critique partners and my manuscripts go over many rounds of edits.

  15. Jean James
    I think it’s absolutely fabulous that you collaborate with your family. It sounds like so much fun, and from all your lovely books listed above, very productive!

  16. susan schade
    Heidi, Thanks for the post. I liked your reminder, “don’t waste words.” I will tack that phrase up in my office.

  17. Ann Magee
    Thanks, Heidi, for your humorous but honest view of writing with your mom as a critique partner. I envy your unique relationship.

  18. Patricia Toht
    I love the books that have resulted from your partnership, Heidi! I smile just thinking about the challenges of working so closely with family. I dream of attending PBBC to see you and mom in action.

  19. Melinda Kinsman – Thanks for a new perspective on writing in rhyme, Heid. I love the idea of one big family-based author support group!

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