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. Patricia Toht
    Thanks, Alexandra. I love the threshold of “standing the test of time.” I also don’t know how I missed A PIG, A FOX, AND A BOX. It sounds like a “must” for my studies this month!

  2. Charlotte Dixon
    Thank you, Alexandra, for the peek at the other side of the agent’s desk. Your insight will help me as I travel my journey in writing. You are so right about A PIG, A FOX, AND A BOX. It is clever and funny!

  3. Thanks Alexandra on your perspective on rhyming books. I was always discouraged from submitting rhyming manuscripts until I found RhyPiBoMo and from encouraging blogs like this!! It’s so much fun!!

  4. Sara Gentry
    Thank you, Alexandra, for providing us with an agent’s perspective. I love your simple question of “Will it stand the test of time?” A good filter no matter what type of books one writes.

  5. Ingrid Boydston- Thanks for the agent/editor p.o.v. Everyone on this site obviously LOVES rhyme, so its encouraging to hear that love espoused from the other side, even if it comes with the strict (bur realistic) requirements. Going to keep pursuing that test of time rhyme!

  6. Julie Schuh

    Thank you, Alexandra. Like many others I found the question “Will it stand the test of time?” to be my big take away from the thoughts you shared.

  7. Melanie Ellsworth – I’m glad to have another rhyming PB to add to my reading list – “joyful to read aloud” sounds like a wonderful criteria to use for evaluating many rhyming picture books. Congratulations on your forthcoming rhyming picture book, Alexandra; I look forward to reading that one, too!

  8. Cathy Lentes
    Thanks for the insider agent tips. Writing stories that will stand the test of time should be what we all strive to accomplish whether writing in rhyme or not.

  9. Joana Pastro
    Alexandra, I’ve always loved children’s books. I’m just started learning about the craft of picture books a month ago, and about rhyming here. I wonder how do we know if a story should be written in rhyme? I guess that comes with experience. I hope one day I have enough of that to be able to identify it! Thanks for sharing your insight. I’ll be reading your books.

  10. Judy Sobanski
    Thank you for sharing an agent’s as well as author’s perspective on rhyming picture book manuscripts. Standing the test of time is a good thing to remember when considering rhyming the text.

  11. NATALIE LYNN TANNER: WOW! An agent AND a former editor’s POV ALL IN ONE!!!!???!!!: PRICELESS!!!! THANK YOU, Alexandra, for the sound advice when deciding if we should tell a story in rhyme or not, to make sure we “know readers would love to read [the story] again and again.” You’re right, rhyme or not, that’s what it all comes down to! THANK YOU!!!!

  12. Heather B Moon
    Thank you for the sound advice from an agent’s point of view , Alexandra. An author who has stood the test of time is Julia Donaldson. As an ex teacher, an author and now a grandparent I find that children can not get enough of The Gruffalo and Room on the Broom. She is certainly my inspiration.

  13. Chris Clayson – thank you, Alexandra Penfold, for the other side of the desk’s pov. It’s helpful to see as many sides of RPB’s as we can. Thank you very much

  14. I found your blog very interesting. I have ordered Jon Fenske’s bookto read. I like your questionshere:-
    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? I think they show the need to be careful about when we chose rhyme.
    I know it helps early readers and a rhyming story can be soothing at betime.
    You make me think again.
    Tahnk you

  15. Sue Morris
    Angie, I wanted so much to go to Chicago, but the expenses added up too high for me (mostly hotel bills). One of these days I will get to a conference. I’m hoping the ALA in Columbus (still not exactly what I need, but its a start and close by).

    I’ve read a lot of agents and editors blogs and twitter posts saying not to send rhyming picture book manuscripts. Considering all the new rhyming releases each year, one might wonder who IS accepting rhymes. Ms. Penfold’s post shines a light on this conundrum. I don’t think there’s been such a post during RhyPiBoMo until now.

  16. Pingback: Natalie Lakosil and Alexandra Penfold – 12 x 12 Featured Agents April 2017 – 12×12 Challenge

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