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. Joy Main – Thank you Heidi. I loved hearing about your ‘table-tennis method’ of batting drafts backwards and forwards. Maybe I should start writing with my mother!

  2. MD Knabb
    I can only imagine your family dinner table conversation. Such a rich background had to draw you into writing but you make it clear, it’s still challenging work, not at all easy even with your resources. Thanks, Heidi.

  3. Natalie McNee
    I don’t think I could write with my mom but I do bounce ideas off my husband. He’s been helping me with my rhyming as he likes patterns/sequences etc. He’s also not afraid to tell me “that sucks” in a loving kind of way lol.

  4. How fortunate to have that writing support group within the family! I know I couldn’t write with my mother, but YOUR mother, on the other hand, I’d LOVE to write with her! 🙂 Thanks for sharing how your and Jane’s collaboration works. — Rebecca Colby

  5. Mona Pease
    Thanks, Heidi. Yes, I could write with your Mom! My critique partners are my lifeline. Though we don’t collaborate on a story, we are honest with each other’s.

  6. Melissa Stoller —

    Hi Heidi – thank you for this heartfelt post. How lucky we are that you decided to go into the family business! Looking forward to your next four-way family collaboration!

  7. A truly inspirational post, Heidi. Thank you for sharing your “inner workings” with your Mom and other family members. It’s amazing what your group/partner efforts have put forth! I love your books and read them again and again. I think you have created “writer “with those posting comments today and I appreciate you letting us in on your collaboration techniques.

  8. MaryLee Flannigan
    Thank you Heidi for your blog today. I think it is wonderful that you and your Mom work together! 🙂

  9. Linda Hofke

    Writing with my mother wouldn’t work (not because we don’t get along. We do. But rather because her interests don’t include writing. She’s be clueless.) But YOUR mother is very knowledgeable and I would love to learn from someone like that.

    I like how you explained your writing process. Writing with a partner is certainly different that writing alone. I can now see the benefits and downfalls of it.

  10. Thanks for sharing, Heidi! I would love working with a partner on RPBs. Waking up each day, surrounded by playful words. *Happiness*

  11. Heidi, Thanks for sharing your insight on the family side of your writing world! Most of all … thanks for sharing your writing works with all of us!

  12. (Katelyn Aronson) Thank you, Heidi! So cool to hear “your side” of the story. Great points about having a partner in rhyme…pun intended! 😉

  13. It’s a great partnership! thanks for sharing all your wonderful books with us – and for realizing that your life of fighting crime was no match for rejoining “the family”…

  14. Thanks for a great post, Heidi. I’m actually writing some rhyming manuscripts with my husband who is all about the puzzle of making the meter and rhyme work. I love how you work together with your mom. What a wonderful relationship.

  15. How wonderful that you share this passion with your mother and other family members. I know your mother must have been delighted when you began to show an interest in writing for children. And, as someone said in a previous reply — we all benefit from that collaboration. Best wishes to you in your future projects.

    Debbie McCue

  16. My critique partners have helped in innumerable ways. Love them all. Thinking about Heidi’s family, I am wondering if there is something genetic at play. Nothing in my background, so I hope I am a mutant.

  17. Laura Renauld –
    Rhyming picture books are truly puzzles worth toiling over, especially with a trusted writing partner. Thank you!

  18. How fortunate to have a family critique group! So excited to have a rhyming group now. I’ve had a general group for several years but none of them are rhymers.

  19. I LOVED hearing this! My heart went pitterpatter when a family member recently said they’d like to write a book, at a very young age. It’s wonderful that young people can learn within their families that writing can be a focus in their lives! This collaboration in the Yolen family is the very best kind! Sherry Howard

  20. Lynn Alpert
    What a fun family you have! Having critique partners who can rhyme is really important and helpful but beware of the advice of those that don’t have the innate rhythm of rhyme!

  21. I absolutely LOVE You Nest Here with Me, and am the proud owner of it. I’m a self-proclaimed bird nerd, and lover of Owl Moon too. And Melissa Sweet’s art is so lovely. Thanks for the tips, Heidi 🙂

  22. Thank you Heidi. Sharing the wrIting, editing, rewriting experiences with family makes the process all the sweeter. – Judy Rubin

  23. Thanks for sharing your secret to collaborating with rhyme! More than one set of ears is so important to hear what we are missing or what’s working. What fun (well most of the time:) it must be to write with your mom! Awesome post! Patti Richards (pgwrites5@gmail.com)

  24. Ann Kelley
    Thanks for sharing how you and your mom collaborate together – passing the script back and forth! I think it’d be wonderful to have a such a writing partner. How great that you and your family have a built-in critique group! Can’t wait to read your next four-way family collaboration!

  25. Heidi I love your mother’s poetry from along time ago. How thrilling to be able to support each other. My daughter is artistic but won’t even try looking at book illustration.
    I read nest with me and found it delightful. I am learning every day here and your blog was great to read.Blessings on you and Jane.

  26. Jill Giesbrecht – Thank you, Heidi, for sharing a bit of what it is like to work with your mom. How nice to have a built in rhyming picture book critic with such good taste. 🙂 Keep making your books – we enjoy them.

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