How to Use Rhyme and Rhythm in a Children’s Picture Book 

Many first-time writers have heard that writing in rhyme and rhythm is difficult but then find it comes so easily when they put pen to paper. Maybe you’ve experienced this yourself and wondered what all the fuss is about. However, some first-time writers aren’t taught the big picture — writing in verse is about so much more than just getting words to rhyme. In this blog, you’ll discover exactly what it means to write in rhyme and everything you need to be aware of going into a rhythmic manuscript.

What Are Rhyme and Rhythm?

How to Write Exceptional Rhyme and Rhythm

What are Rhyme and Rhythm?

Even though many people already have a basic understanding of rhyme and rhythm, most writers aren’t formally taught the terms and mechanics of writing in verse. Therefore, let’s briefly review these important items before learning how to use them in your story.

Important Terms for Rhyme and Rhythm

  • Rhyme: when the sounds at the end of words is the same (e.g., “the cat in the hat”)

  • Rhythm: pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in text

  • Verse: writing made up of poetic lines containing rhythm and pattern. May include rhyming.

  • Stanza: group of lines in verse

  • Line: line of text within a stanza

In literature, there are different ways you can use rhyme and rhythm — these different methods are called rhyme schemes and rhythmic patterns.

Rhyme Schemes

Rhyme schemes are defined as an intentional pattern of rhymes within a stanza or text, and we identify these patterns by using letters to label corresponding rhymes. Here are some examples:

EXAMPLE 1

Today is my favourite day (A)
The clear and sunny fifth of May (A)

EXAMPLE 2

As I walk to the store (A)
I can’t help but wonder (B)
How the birds soar (A)
And never seem to blunder (B)

EXAMPLE 3

Sometimes I think (A)
About seeds in soil (B)
How they’re waiting to grow (C)
And dispel turmoil (B)

In these examples, we see how corresponding letters mark corresponding rhymes and how different patterns can be created depending on the stanza’s size and usage of rhyme. So, rhyme and rhythm work well together when we maintain a consistent rhyme scheme.

EXAMPLE 1 is a rhyming couplet with only two rhyming lines in a stanza.

EXAMPLE 2 is a quatrain since it has four lines. These lines follow an ABAB rhyme scheme, meaning that the first and third lines rhyme together while the second and fourth lines rhyme together.

EXAMPLE 3 is also a quatrain, but it has a rhyme scheme of ABCB, meaning that the second and fourth lines rhyme, but the first and third lines do not.

Rhyme Schemes in Picture Books

In children’s picture books, it’s important to be consistent across the entire manuscript. So, if your story starts with rhyming couplets, use rhyming couplets throughout.

Note: Sometimes, a break in the rhyme scheme can be used to signal a turning point in the manuscript. Although, this is not a necessary mechanic, but it can be very effective at drawing the reader’s attention to that moment in the text. However, it may only be used once. If used too much, it will break the overarching rhyme scheme and lose its effect.

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Rhythmic Patterns

Similar to rhyme schemes, rhythmic patterns are dependent on how the author arranges sounds within lines and stanzas. Oftentimes, writers rely on their natural sense of rhythm to establish a pattern. Unfortunately, we are prone to losing focus and forcing words into patterns they don’t belong in. Here’s a crash course on rhythmic patterns so you can ensure your rhythm meets professional standards.

When looking for a rhythm, it’s best to look at the text line-by-line. This is where rhyme and rhythm are different from one another: rhyme evaluates the entire stanza while rhythm focuses on one line at a time.

A rhythmic pattern is made up of feet, where every foot is a set of grouped syllables, and these groupings are dependent on which syllables are stressed (/) or unstressed (x)

Iambic Pentameter

We won’t go into every type of meter (it gets quite complicated!), but we will unpack the most commonly used rhythmic pattern: iambic pentameter, and all the information you need to know about iambic pentameter is actually in the name! 

First, let’s discuss the term “iambic”. An iamb (“iambic”) is a pair of syllables in which the first syllable is unstressed (x) and the second syllable is stressed (/)

Here are some examples of iambic words and phrases:

  • Define [de-fine] (we put the emphasis on the second syllable, “fine”)

  • Attain [at-tain]

  • Beneath [be-neath]

  • “I went into the store” [I went — in-to — the store]

Now, let’s discuss the second part of the term: “pentameter”. This word is simply telling us how many feet are in a line of text. In this case, there must be five feet per line.

Here is an example of iambic pentameter in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet:

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.

I’ve highlighted every stressed (/) syllable to distinguish each pair (or foot). As you can see, there are five pairs of syllables in every line, with the second syllable being stressed. In other words, there are five (“penta”) feet (“meter”) with an iambic pattern. You’ll also notice that these pairs aren’t defined by words — sometimes a word is split in half between two feet. That’s because rhythmic patterns don’t focus so much on words as syllables.

This is also part of the reason maintaining a consistent rhyme and rhythm can be so difficult — it’s very hard to spot if you aren’t sure exactly what you’re looking for!

If you’re interested, you can find other types of rhythm/meter HERE. But they can get quite complicated. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

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Rhythmic Patterns in Picture Books

It may seem daunting at first, but rest assured that you CAN write a rhythmically pleasing picture book. It will just take a keen eye and lots of practice. But, once you get the hang of it, you’ll start flying through it.

Fun Fact: Iambic pentameter is often compared to the rhythm of a heartbeat, so if you’re ever unsure whether your story has a consistent rhythm, try reading through it with a heartbeat pattern in mind.

How to Write Exceptional Rhyme and Rhythm

Now that we’ve explored exactly what rhyme and rhythm are, here are some non-negotiables you must keep in mind as you write or edit your verse.

Make Every Word Count

To make rhyme and rhythm satisfying to read, every word must count. With only 1,000 words to play with in children’s picture books, there’s no room for filler. Unfortunately, writing in verse often prompts writers to include more filler words than normal. Why? Because we tend to focus on the rhyme more than the story itself.

For example, consider the following:

Millie ran around the kitchen, unsure what to bake
So distracted that she wouldn’t even notice an earthquake!

This example is problematic because, while it achieves the rhyme (“bake” and “quake”), it sacrifices the story to do so. If this story is about Millie as she tries to bring goodies to a local bake sale, then why is the narration bringing an earthquake into the equation? Not only is it thematically irrelevant, but it’s also distracting from the story.

Here’s an example of how Loris Lesynski uses rhyme appropriately in her picture book, Boy Soup:

Giant woke up with a big, hurting head.
“I am sore I am sick I feel awful,” he said.
He coughed —
Moving mountains.
He hacked —
Causing quakes.
He said with a whimper,
“My everything aches.”

You might think, Wait! That book mentions quakes. Why is it okay here? The reason “quakes” are relevant in this example is because the term “quakes” is used to describe something happening within the story. Therefore, it paints a vivid picture of the scene in front of us without using a distracting simile or metaphor. All of these rhymes contribute to the story in a meaningful way.

As you write and edit your manuscript, look for any rhymes that seem more convenient than essential, and brainstorm other rhyming alternatives that will enhance the story (not distract from it).

Tell a Complete Story

Just like writing in prose, we must tell a complete story with a clear beginning, middle, and end (even if you’re using rhyme and rhythm). 

You must keep the manuscript focused on the main character and his/her adventure. Even in verse, your story must include a problem, a call to action, rock bottom, and an eventual solution to the main problem.

Not familiar with these terms? Check out my blog on outlining your picture book HERE.

Only now, you’re not just focused on writing the story. Additionally, you must maintain a consistent rhyme scheme and rhythmic pattern throughout. This is what makes writing in verse so much more challenging.

Never Give Up

Even though writing with rhyme and rhythm can feel insurmountable, all the hard work and effort will pay off. So, if you keep on trying, editing, and honing your craft, you will end up with a manuscript that is satisfying to read, engaging, and memorable.

Yes, writing in verse is a challenge, but the end result makes it all worth it. You CAN do this!

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