Thursday, June 29, 2006

Rhythm, Rhyme and Storytime

One of the fallacies of children’s literature is that sometimes people think they want to write children’s books. Not stories, per se (and I include non-fiction), but children’s books.

After all, the reasoning goes, a children’s book is shorter than a grown-up’s book, ergo it will be easier to write. Any of you who have ever sat down in front a blank page know that all of a sudden, cleaning your bedroom, doing your laundry, and mowing your lawn become more appealing chores than they did prior to your intention to write. I’ve been there. You’ve been there. I have no worries on that front. “Children’s literature is not for the weak,” as Fuse #8 says in the banner on her blog. However, stories in themselves are for the weak and the strong. The weak need encouragement to act with courage, and the strong need reminders to remain humble and compassionate.

What galls me is when someone decides to write a children’s book, puts all sorts of time, energy, effort and imagination into the work, but then decides that the book must be in rhyme. I love good poetry, but I hate forced rhyme. All poetry is not rhyme, and all rhyme is not poetry. For example, the lively illustrations and cumulative disaster storyline of Patricia Polacco’s book, In Enzo’s Splendid Gardens, are utterly ruined by forced rhyme. For example:

"…and heard the commotion
who ran to help the man on the cart
with chocolate and pies all stuck to his heart…”

“Chest” or “shirt” doesn’t rhyme with “cart,” so Polacco has to make do with the nearest body part rhyme. How about "... who ran to help the man in the vest/ with chocolate-cream pie all over his chest?" It's not that much better than the published version, but the book would have been much better had it simply followed the rhythm without insisting upon the rhyme.

Enough. Here, then, is a small list of rhyming books I’ve enjoyed reading aloud. They have both a compelling storyline and invigorating verses. Please add your own recommendations in the comments section.

Rhythm, Rhyme and Storytime

Black is Brown is Tan—-Arnold Adoff, ill by Emily Arnold McCully

black is brown is tan
is girl is boy
is nose is
is all
of the race

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom—Bill Martin, Jr., ill. by Lois Ehlert

I often have this book on display for storytimes, but don’t read it unless I think the children need something familiar with which to connect. It's quite popular, and I wouldn't even list it except for hte fact I have never gotten tired of the rhythm and rhyme of this book. I can recite it aloud for you, if you like, complete with hand-claps and knee-slaps:

skit-skat skoodle-doot
flip flop flee
everybody running to the coconut tree...

A House is a House for Me—Mary Anne Hoberman, ill. by Betty Fraser

I have a startling confession to make: when I read this book, I mentally have the tune “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” from “Cabaret. I’m not proud of this fact, but it is a good tune with an unfortunate connotation.

“A hill is a house for an ant, an ant,
A hive is a house for a bee,
A hill is a house for a mole or a mouse,
And a house is a house for me.”

I Can’t, Said the Ant—-Polly Cameron

I take it personally that this book is out of print. I'm glad that it's readily available in out-of-print paperback form (courtesy of Scholastic), and I buy copies for baby presents when I think the parents will appreciate the book. In the story, all the anthropomorphic items in the kitchen from the food to the cutlery help a broken tea-pot on the floor get back on the counter. My favorite rhyme: "’Form a battalion,’ said the scallion."

Twenty-Four Robbers—-Audrey Wood

Not last night, but the night before
twenty-four robbers came a-knocking at my door.
I asked them what they wanted, and this is what they said,
H-O-T… Hot Peppers!!!”

By the way, the fact that I link to does not mean I necessarily advocate ordering from the company. The links are for your convenience. Please consider ordering titles from your local independent bookstore, if you have one (or more) in your area.


Orkboi said...

Although the rhymes are sometimes rather belaboured, I have a soft spot for the Madeline stories.

cloudscome said...

Yes! I agree with you completely and I love your list! I get a kick out of Dr. Seuss too, especially Fox in Socks and One Fish Two Fish.

Lone Star Ma said...

I, too, love the Madeline stories, very much. I always found their more belabored rhymes to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek and liked them. Also, the good doctor, but obviously, most writers cannot aspire to be either Dr. Seuss or Ludwig Bemelmans...this post was a good reminder to me, Alkelda. I was about to ruin a good story idea. Thank you!!