Rhyme Revolution 2017 Day 15 ~ Eric Ode ~ Repetition

Red Stars

Too Many Tomatoes

By Eric Ode

Ilustrated by Kent Culotta

One blue star

I Will Repeat Them in a House. I Will Repeat Them with a Mouse.

by Author Eric Ode

It’s an off-balance feeling. That sensation that comes with international travel, when we’ve put ourselves in a place where the language, sights, and customs are unfamiliar. The street signs, the storefronts, the conversations on the sidewalk… Nothing looks or sounds quite like we expect. Then, when the familiar does come along – a Starbucks in Rome or an English-speaking pedestrian in Cusco – it jumps out with the intensity of a spotlight.

Familiarity grounds us. Comforts us. Gives us confidence. I think this helps explain why repetition is such a powerful and effective element in picture books – and in rhyming picture books especially. While a story’s vocabulary, setting, and characters might be new and confusing, repetition provides the child with something reassuring.

Think about that child you know who learned to “read” Green Eggs and Ham before they could read Green Eggs and Ham. It didn’t take many bedtimes with Sam and his floppy-eared friend before “I will not eat them with a…,” was tucked in that child’s back pocket like a shiny pebble.

Or consider the enthusiasm that erupts from the story time circle when the librarian shares Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. The children know that line is coming. They expect and look forward to it. And when it does, they join in with pep rally enthusiasm.

Repetition works! Repetition, whether the child knows it or not, is often what makes one particular story a favorite, the book a child goes back to again and again until Daddy is ready to hide it under the couch.

So how and where do we put repetition to work in our own writing?

For starters, pages can open with a repeated line. Several pages in Anna Dewdney’s Llama Llama Red Pajama begin with the book’s title.

Repetition can roll around someplace in the middle of the stanzas like in Ogden Nash’s The Adventures of Isabel. (“Isabel, Isabel didn’t worry, Isabel didn’t scream or scurry.”) This repetition builds a framework for the story, like the repeating beams of a skyscraper.

Of course lines of repetition can wrap up a page. (All together now! “I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-am.”) There’s Patricia Thomas’ “Stand Back,” Said the Elephant, “I’m Going to Sneeze!” (“Oh, please. Don’t sneeze!”) Or one of my favorites, Reeve Lindbergh’s There’s a Cow in the Road. (“Then the cow looks at me, and the cow says, ‘Moo!’ And the next thing I know, there’s a ______ there too!”)

In their delightful I’m a Dirty Dinosaur, Janeen Brian and Ann James take the last line of each stanza and repeat it in a chant-like fashion.

I’m a dirty dinosaur

with a dirty snout.

I never wipe it clean.

I just sniff and snuff about.


Placed at the end of a page, repetition can build anticipation. What’s going to happen next?

Repetition can be scattered about the story like splattered paint on canvas. My own Too Many Tomatoes repeats the title seven times over the course of the story, sometimes at the beginning of a stanza, other times in the middle or at the end.

Still other books – Eric Carle’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, for instance – are built almost entirely upon repetition.

Do you have a rhyming picture book manuscript that’s feeling less-than-grounded? Three words: Repetition, repetition, repetition. When it comes to picture books, familiarity does not breed contempt but contentment.

One blue star

Eric Ode is the author of ten picture books including the rhyming picture books Dan, the Taxi Man; Busy Trucks on the Go; and Too Many Tomatoes (Kane Miller Books) and Bigfoot Does Not Like Birthday Parties (Sasquatch/Little Bigfoot Books). A multiple award-winning songwriter for children and a former elementary teacher, Ode travels throughout the country sharing his stories, poetry, and music at schools, festivals, and education conferences. Visit www.ericode.com.

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102 thoughts on “Rhyme Revolution 2017 Day 15 ~ Eric Ode ~ Repetition

  1. You mentioned many reasons why repetition in stories is great for kids and I agree. Also, from a parent/teacher/adult point of view, it makes the story so much fun to read.

    You’ve included some great books in this post but there are two I am not familiar with. Now I need to go find them. Thanks for the recommendation.

  2. Words of wisdom with regard to repetition when writing rhyming picture books. Those groupings of words–at the beginning, middle, end, or all through the story–definitely add to the fun of reading and listening. Thanks for your post, Eric!

  3. Eric, I appreciate your post. I’ve debated removing the repetition in one of my PBs. But your advice helped, especially – “While a story’s vocabulary, setting, and characters might be new and confusing, repetition provides the child with something reassuring.”

  4. As a preschool teacher, I see firsthand how children respond to repetition. They love it and are so proud of themselves when they know exactly where it falls on the page. Great post Eric. Thank you!

  5. Hi Erik, I had never thought about why repetition works so well in a children’s book. Your explanation makes total sense. It makes you feel at home, you know your routine, you’re safe. Well, off to place your books on hold. Thanks!

  6. HI Erik, All your books look so fun! Thanks for the reminder about repetition. Repetition is powerful in that it adds to the familiarity and coziness of a book. Congrats to your success!

  7. Eric, you spoke like someone who gets “inside” books and really gains insight into what works and why. Great post, and the books are fun examples of variations on repetition.

  8. I agree that repetition adds a lot to a story. While I have found it difficult to use repetition effectively, your post inspires me to really focus on this technique. Great post. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  9. Thank you once
    Thank you twice
    Thank you, thank you,
    Thank you thrice

    (Guess that’s really five.)
    Great post, great post.

  10. I had forgotten how much I LOVE rhyme and repetition until you gave these wonderful examples. This is so true, especially for preschoolers and younger readers. They LOVE taking part in stories, and that’s what we want right? Great post!

  11. If it’s worth saying, it’s worth repeating. (Somebody said that. I don’t know who. Maybe Mark Twain. Or if he didn’t, I’m sure he would have if he thought about it.) But repetition has surely worked magic for me in my book, “STAND BACK,” SAID THE ELEPHANT, “I’M GOING TO SNEEZE!” (Thank you and thank you and thank you again for the mention!) I appreciate the value of that line every time I read that book to a bunch of kids. Never fails. I only need to read the “Please don’t sneeze!” line once or twice…point…and the whole giggling gang will say it for me.

    Your article was a Super-Dooper, Jim-Dandy, Really-Handy,Blog Show Stopper (part of the title of another of my wacky rhymed books, by the way.) Thumbs up to you, Eric!

    • Patricia, what a treat to hear from you! “Stand Back” is truly an outstanding title. Everything about it works. Wishing you the very best.

  12. Thank you, Eric, for this reminder about the power of repetition. I’ve not read all your examples so I’ve got some catch up to do! Love the fun in your post 🙂

  13. Eric,
    You are quite the guy.
    I think one of your books I might buy.
    yOu know so much about repetition.
    That I will use more repetition.
    I will use more repetition.

  14. Thank you for this powerful post. Thank you for this meaningful message. Thank you for this inspirational insight. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

  15. Great post! I recently had a PB that wasn’t quite coming together for me. I added som repetition, and not only was it more fun to read, but it helped tie everything together. Running to get the books you mentioned. Thanks!

  16. Completely agree, Eric! And I’d add that it’s not just the kids who find comfort in repetition; as the mommy who read GREEN EGGS AND HAM a hundred times, there’s something very comforting about that book to me, too! And I would read it with a fox and in a box and here or there. I’d read that book anywhere! (I do so love GREEN EGGS AND HAM. Thank you, thank you, Eric Ode. You’re the man.) 🙂

  17. ERIC: THANK YOU for this WONDERFUL post! I especially appreciate all of the GREAT book examples showing different types of repetition–I’m going to check these all out! As to repetition bringing contentment: we all need a bit of that, don’t we? Not just the kids! THANK YOU!!!

  18. Love repetition, lyrics, thoughts by a character, lines in a picture book, and instructions to children. Thanks for your post.

  19. I’ve been meaning to work on a repetitive piece! I think this is my cue to begin working on it for my 12×12 May manuscript! 🙂

  20. I appreciated your post very much. As a child I did find comfort in the repetition of lines in a story, and as an author I enjoy writing with repetition.

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