The sun was hidden
It was too damp to play.
So we both just sat inside
Staring out at the haze.
If Dr. Seuss had written like that, I’m pretty sure he never would have been published. The above is why editors and agents cringe when they receive children’s stories written in rhyme. Some publishing houses refuse to even look at manuscripts submitted in rhyme because so many people get it wrong and rhyme written wrong is just plain painful.
So, what is the magic in Dr. Seuss’s writing? What is the charm in his rhyme that keeps his stories alive and thriving all through the years? What can we learn from his writing to mimic in ours?
The sun did not shine
It was too wet to play.
So we sat in the house
All that cold, cold, wet day.
Ahh, much better. Dr. Seuss wrote in perfect rhyme, perfect meter and perfect rhythm.
First he used perfect rhyme. Every time.
Play and day rhyme. Play and haze do not. He worked to make the rhymes perfect. Children learn what rhymes are by listening to rhymes being read. Imperfect rhymes send mixed messages to children about what rhymes are. Some words look like they should rhyme: pain and again. Word and Lord. They don’t. Strive for perfection in your rhymes.
Secondly, he used perfect meter. In the opening stanza, there is no meter. Accents on words fall all over the place. It is difficult to read. However, Dr. Seuss places 5-6 syllables in each line and rhymes the last words in the second and fourth lines. His accents fall consistently on every third syllable making it a joy to read. Everybody reads it the same, every time. We don’t have to figure out how to read it correctly. It just happens.
We don’t have to use his meter in our writing. There are tons of different meters. Pick another, make up your own, but be consistent and watch where your accents naturally fall.
Finally, he wrote in perfect rhythm. This is a combination of perfect rhyme and perfect meter that evokes natural speech. Don’t force words to make a rhyme. Don’t write ‘Sally did run’, to make a rhyme with sun. Nobody talks like that. Sally ran. Don’t rhyme it with sun. Find another word to rhyme with ran. Be creative. Play with words. It all works together to form verse in beautiful rhythm.
If it’s too painful to play with the words to make it beautiful then write in prose. Children need all kinds of books, but if rhyme comes naturally to you then strive to make it perfect!
Write so that your rhyme is sublime.
Jill is the author of more than a dozen picture books and board books that bring both giggles and God to the eager hearts of young children.