RhyPiBoMo 2016 Day 17 Literary Agent Alexandra Penfold

SCBWI Midwest Conf logo

Art by  Michael Kress-Russick


SO…who is going to the

Wild Wild Midwest SCBWI Conference 2016

Friday, April 29, 2016 – Sunday, May 01, 2016

It is next weekend near Chicago and I can’t wait!

If you are a RhyPiBoMoer and are attending please stop by our

RhyPiBoMojito Party on Saturday Night.


We will have “Kid Lit-friendly” Mojitos and

you can add Rum to yours, if you like.

For those who already know me…we will have plastic cups ONLY!  ; )

Stop by and say hello! I will post the place and time in the Facebook group so be watching for updated information.

Please RSVP in the Facebook Post so I can plan for snacks.

I can’t wait to meet you!

SCBWI Midwest Conf logo 2

Art by  Michael Kress-Russick


I met today’s Guest Blogger at the LA SCBWI Conference last summer. I attended her session on writing rhyming picture books…of course! We immediately connected over our love of RPBs and she kindly agreed to share an agent’s perspective on writing them.



I’m pleased to introduce

Literary Agent Alexandra Penfold

Alexandra Penfold photo by Donny Tsang

Alexandra Penfold photo by Donny Tsang


Rhyme can be fun! Rhyme can be funny! Rhyme can be playful and joyful and meaningful, too. But rhyme can also be dull and dry and boring. And when rhyme falls into those categories there are few things that are more tedious to read.


When you’re settled in at your computer and looking at a new draft on the screen, it’s important to ask yourself, “will this rhyme stand the test of time?” Because when you press send and share that manuscript with the world, that’s what an agent and editor are going to be asking.


If you’ve ever been to an SCBWI conference, you’ve probably heard editors say “Don’t send me rhyming picture book manuscripts.”


But if you go to the bookstore, you see books being published that are in rhyme. If no one is requesting rhyming texts, where are these picture books coming from? What gives?


I think the trouble is not the rhyming itself. It’s not an industry-wide distaste for poetry. It’s the abundance of bad rhyme that agents and editors see in their submissions that turns them off. Just like one apple can spoil the bunch, one bad rhymer can set an agent or editor’s eyes rolling and their mouse scrolling. Click, clack, delete.


As an agent, I’m looking for manuscripts that I think will stand the test of time. Ones that I know I’d have wanted to acquire when I sat on the editor’s side of the desk. Ones that I know readers would love to read again and again.


While rhyming picture books can break out, it’s important to consider why the manuscript is written in rhyme. Does this story need to be told in rhyme? Is rhyme the best vehicle for telling the story? Is the rhyme itself the reason for the story—i.e. sometimes a writer thinks of a rhyme and devises a plot around it. And this is where you need to be brutally honest with yourself, was that original rhyme so funny and so great that it deserves a story?


Rhyming text when not done well can be constraining your narrative voice. Even if you can maintain the story with the rhyming couplets, sometimes it might feel like the story has to meander a bit to get you that rhyme. With such a short and patterned text it can be hard to get a sense of a real voice. And that’s all the more challenging when you have meandering stanzas to hit all your beats.

 A Pig, a Fox, and a Box

Recently I’ve been utterly enchanted by Jonathan Fenske’s Geisel honor award winning book, A Pig, a Fox, and a Box.* With simple language and a buoyant rhyme scheme, not to mention spot on vocabulary for emerging readers, this deceptively simple early reader takes the reader through a rollicking rhyming story in three parts that begs for repeat reads. The front flap shows the titular, Fox with the text: “I have a box. I like to play. I think I will trick Pig today.” The set up and language are simple, but the humor and use of language are timeless. And most of all it’s joyful to read aloud. And that’s the sweet spot for any picture book.

*Mr. Fenske is not a client or acquaintance, so this is just unbiased fan gushing.




Alexandra Penfold is a Literary Agent at Upstart Crow Literary and has been working in publishing for over a decade. Formerly an Editor at Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, she specializes in young picture books, middle-grade fiction, and young adult. Prior to becoming an editor, Alexandra was a children’s book publicist. She worked on media campaigns that appeared in USA Today,NewsweekUS News and World Report, and NPR’s All Things Considered. She’s the co-author of New York a la Cart: Recipes and Stories from the Big Apple’s Best Food Trucks and the author of three picture books: Eat, Sleep, Poop!, illustrated by Jane Massey, out this fall from Knopf Books for Young Readers, as well as the forthcoming We Are Brothers, We Are Friends illustrated by Eda Kaban, about the special relationship between two young brothers and Food Truck Fest, illustrated by Mike Dutton, her first rhyming(!) picture book text.

New York A La Cart

New York a la Cart: Recipes and Stories from the Big Apple’s Best Food Trucks 

Eat Sleep Poop

Eat, Sleep, Poop!, illustrated by Jane Massey

Twitter  @AgentPenfold

Upstart Crow Website


80 thoughts on “RhyPiBoMo 2016 Day 17 Literary Agent Alexandra Penfold

  1. Donna Rossman:
    Thank you, Alexandra for your informative and helpful agent’s perspective. I’m looking forward to reading Food Truck Feast!!! 🙂

  2. Thanks for this advice! I’ll be brutally honest after writing my next rhyming PB and asking myself if my original rhyme is funny enough and strong enough to deserve a story. — Rebecca Colby

  3. (Katelyn Aronson) “Will this rhyme stand the test of time?” A good rule of thumb, indeed. Thank you, Alexandra.

  4. Linda Hofke

    How embarrassing! A Pig, A Fox, and a Box won an award and I had never heard of it before! That’s one of the disadvantages of living overseas. It’s hard to keep up on what’s current/new in the market. I must find this book. Thanks for recommending it.

    “Will this rhyme stand the test of time?” That’s a great question to ask when reading over manuscripts (and I like that the question rhymes) 🙂

  5. Joy Main – Thank you Alexandra. This is a good reminder to have our manuscripts critiqued well to ensure other people think they’re great, and not just us!

  6. Many thanks for the post Alexandra! An agent’s perspective is very helpful and yes, opening up the WIP’s to revise, rework, create! Also, now most anxious to read A Pig, A Fox and A Box.

  7. MaryLee Flannigan
    Thank you Alexandra for your advice and congratulations on all of your successes. The mention of NY food trucks made me hungry. I look forward to meeting you at the upcoming Midwest Conference!

  8. Deborah Allmand

    Alexandra what a wealth of information you have given us. As an author, and now an agent your advice is invaluable.

  9. It was interesting and extremely helpful to read about rhyming texts from an agent’s perspective and to get a personal reflection of what works and what won’t. Your suggestion to keep asking, “Will this rhyme stand the test of time?” will become the mantra of many–including myself. Thanks, Alexandra, for your candor!

  10. Debbie Smart
    Alexandra, Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to share your insights. I appreciate your perspective and suggestions. Thank you so much!

  11. This was a great reminder why it’s hard to sell rhyming picture books! Now that I’m in a position to work with other Rhymers, I see how subjective our sense of our meter is. Looks like some more books to buy! Sherry Howard

  12. I agree with others that the question you presented — “Will this rhyme stand the test of time?” is worth considering. Also, I’m finding it to be true what you said about losing the voice as we try to fit our text into the confines of rhyme and meter. Thanks for your post and thanks for providing the mentor text. I look forward to reading it.

    Debbie McCue

  13. Rebecca Snyder, Thanks Alexandra for putting poetry in perspective and giving me permission to attempt, explore the delightful possibilities of rhyming. I used to drive my kids crazy rhyming out instructions to them when they were young. My grandkids, however, love it when I rhyme them a story, But your questions are noteworthy and helpful to ask if this will appeal to an unknown audience.

  14. Laura Renauld –
    My boys and I recently borrowed A Pig, A Fox, and A Box from the library. What a hoot! My youngest is still talking about it. Its simplicity (after MUCH hard work, I’m sure!) and kid-appeal are spot on. Thanks for sharing this great mentor text!

  15. Thank you, Alexandra! I’ve enjoyed hearing you speak the past two years at SCBWI LA and now reading your post. Your honesty and insight, combined with your diverse industry background, is tremendously useful in guiding aspiring authors. Thanks for your time and dedication to SCBWI.
    ❤ the food truck books.
    Aimee Haburjak

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