Hensel and Gretel: Ninja Chicks
by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez
Illustrated by Dan Santat
2016 Best in Rhyme Award Honor Book
Congratulations Corey and Rebecca!
See the Top 20 Best in Rhyme Books for 2016
More Than Rhyme: Using Poetic Techniques in Rhyming Picture Books
by Rebecca J. Gomez
There’s something special about a good rhyming picture book. When you read it, the words roll off your tongue in a rhythmic cascade, making it a real pleasure to read aloud. But there is more to a good rhyming picture book than its flawless meter and rhyme.
What makes a rhyming picture book more than a good story that rhymes is the way the author uses language. When an author uses poetic techniques beyond rhyme and meter in the text, it becomes less like a rhyming story and more like poetry.
Here are some ways that you can use poetic techniques to make your rhyming picture books truly shine.
Assonance, consonance, and alliteration. Using these in your writing is like sprinkling your manuscript with “ear candy.” When used well, these poetic techniques add fun and flavor to your text.
Internal rhymes. These can be delightful surprises, like the cream filling in cupcake!
Check out this example from TEENY TINY TOADY by Jill Esbaum for an example of alliteration and internal rhymes:
Brothers tumbled, bumble-jumble,
as they stumbled for the door.
“Don’t you worry, kid. We’ll save her!”
Off the seven toadies tore.
(TEENY TINY TOADY also has a lot of fun onomatopoeia.)
Onomatopoeia. These little words and phrases can show a lot with just one word! Consider the words pop, scritch, or bang. Each of them gives you an impression of something happening behind the sound, such as a balloon bursting, a fingernail scratching, or a door slamming shut.
Repetition. Using repetition in your writing can build tension, create emphasis, or encourage young readers to anticipate what is coming.
Simile and metaphor. Both of these devices will help you be concisely creative. A well-placed simile or metaphor can affect mood, describe a setting, or evoke an emotion. In the following example from HENSEL AND GRETEL: NINJA CHICKS, the metaphor is used for humor:
The fox said, “Surrender?
No way, chicken tender!”
Emotive language. This is what I think of as showing while telling. Using the right words to tell WHAT is happening can serve double duty by eliciting an emotional response. Word choice is key; think beyond the literal. Consider this line from WHAT ABOUT MOOSE?:
He spotted and jotted down
while marching around
doing careful inspections.
The phrase “marching around” shows Moose’s state of mind as he’s inspecting his friends’ work.
Imagery. Your words are meant to paint a picture. In a rhyming text, your goal should be to create an image in your readers’ minds using the fewest words possible. It’s often the surprising, clever combinations of simple words and phrases that evoke the most vivid pictures! Consider this stanza from BEAR SNORES ON by Karma Wilson:
An itty-bitty mouse
creep-crawls in the cave
from the fluff-cold snow.
Do you see the tiny mouse sneaking into the cave? Can you see the fluffly snow and feel the chill? All of this was accomplished with very few brilliantly used ordinary words (and a few other poetic techniques as well).
I encourage you to read a lot of rhyming picture books, and make note of the various poetic techniques employed in each. Are there any that work especially well for you? Any that seem overdone? Then put poetic techniques into practice in your own picture book manuscripts!
Rebecca J. Gomez is the coauthor, along with Corey Rosen Schwartz, of two rhyming picture books, WHAT ABOUT MOOSE? and HENSEL AND GRETEL: NINJA CHICKS. When she’s not writing or reading, she enjoys working in her art journals, hiking through the woods, and hanging out with her family. She lives in Nebraska with her husband, three kids, two poodles, and one parrotlet.