Monthly Archives: September 2009

Songs for the Heart

The Psalms of Scripture were originally written as songs. One meaning of the word “psalm” is a sacred song or poem used in worship. The Hebrew children sang the songs of ascent, (Psalm 120 to 124) as they journeyed to Jerusalem for their required three feast days. David sang as he played his harp, to soothe King Saul when the evil spirit tormented him. Looking at some of the early Psalms I wonder if some of those same words were sung to the king then, for sleep and rest. Many of our worship songs are also taken from the Psalms.

I like to start every day with a Psalm, for praise and comfort, and even direction. They are beautiful poetry, with or without music. What can compare with the 23rd Psalm for beauty, and perfect symbolism? Singing or reciting God’s Word—true poetry!



Forced Rhyme

Sherri and I have worked with a fantastic editor at Scholastic Teaching Resources to write a number of books. Deb is awesome! One of her best skills is that she can spot a forced rhyme a mile away. We couldn’t get a forced rhyme past her eagle eyes. She’d get back to us and say politely, “This rhyme just feels forced.” Then we’d get back to work on that stanza until it was in tip top shape.

What is a forced rhyme?

To best explain it, I’ll give an example:

First they ran and hid.
Then search for them they did.

The second line in those two lines of rhyme has the sentence with the words written out of order according to the natural way a person talks. In other words, the sentence was rearranged to make sure the rhyming word was last and therefore rhymed with the word in the line above it.

Forced rhymes might have been okay to use in the days of Shakespeare. After all, that’s how those dead guys talked way back then anyhow.

But in today’s world of casual conversation and easy-going styles of communication, forced rhymes aren’t good. So if someone reads your poem and comments that the rhyme sounds forced, try to rework the stanzas until every line reads in the same natural way people talk. Better yet, as you’re writing the poem or children’s manuscript in rhyme, keep working on lines that’s don’t flow along in a natural speech pattern. Make sure every single line in the stanza first and foremost sounds like the regular way someone talks.

-Contributed by Nancy I. Sanders

Poetry in Motion

When we hear the words “poetry” or “writing in rhyme,” our first thoughts are of stanzas and poems such as Nursery Rhymes.

But that’s not all there is to this art of writing in rhyme!

Even a picture book written in prose is stronger when INTERNAL rhyming is used. This can be two or more rhyming words within the same sentence, or even words that rhyme strategically placed within the same paragraph of text. Any time we can incorporate the 3 R’s of children’s literature (Rhyme, Rhythm and Repetition) into our manuscripts, it helps to strengthen our writing.

We’re even seeing the amazing result of adding poetry and rhymes into genre for the older market with middle grade and young adult novels. What an exciting new trend. Now that’s poetry in motion!

Having Fun with Poetry

Sometimes I like to be a little silly with poetry. I often jot down verses that tickle my funny bone. Here is one of them . . .

                               Food for Thought

                     I like to bake fine apple pies.

           “They taste go good,” my husband sighs,

                    but I can see him roll his eyes

                 when apple pies go on my thighs.


Yes, I know. It will never sell. Neither will this one:

     The beds are made, the sink is clean, the house is looking neat;

     I put the coffee on to perk and then put up my feet.

     This quiet house that’s kicking back is chaos, as a rule,

     but this is Monday morning, and the kids are back in school.


As this is a writing blog, I really should say a few words about writing, so here goes . . .

I sharpen pencils, dust off books,

and give my desk some dirty looks.

I clean the house, then take a walk,

for I have got a writing block.


“I’ll give it up,” I tell myself.

“I’ll put my writing on the shelf.”

I fret a while, I bake a cake;

I hum a tune for my own sake.


And then I venture to the room

where I must surely meet my doom.

I take a pencil in my hand,

for this is where I make my stand.


I write one word and then one more;

I write until my hand is sore.

The words come fast, the words come free,

I can’t believe they come from me.


The moral of this story is:

I do not have to be a whiz.

In my hat I have no rabbit,

But I have a writing habit.


In closing, I want to challenge you to finish the following poem. Make it as long or short as you like. I use this exercise in my class on memoir writing, and it gets surprising results. Here we go . . .


There was no sky today,

just a gray umbrella

with the sun

somewhere beyond.


I imagine I am near . . . (What place are you near? What do you see and hear in this place? How does it make you feel?)

Good luck!

Submitted by Marilyn  Donahue 



The Influence of Poetry

When I was a child I remember being required to memorize and then recite certain poetic pieces. I still can recall a few lines: “The owl and the pussycat went to sea in a beautiful pea green boat…” As I got older I remember reading the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven,” and the works of  Frost, Wordsworth, Keats, Dickinson, and the Brownings, to name a few.

We had to study iambic pentameter, free verse, and fun words like onomatopoeia and alliteration. And although poetic verse was sometimes fun and exciting, I wasn’t drawn to copy them in style. I liked to hear them, but I didn’t find them easy to write.

Yet when I look over the prose I have written these past few years, I can’t help but find a certain flow to them. It’s not rhyme, but it’s rhythm, where the words flow and bounce and move along the page, carrying the reader along to an ultimate conclusion.

I may not be a poet, but those early experiences of learning poetry have impacted my writing beyond what I could have ever imagined. So thank you, all my English teachers of long gone days, for letting poetry influence my life.

Contributed by Catherine L. Osornio

A Treasured Poem Beautifully Depicted

ps_23There are many children’s books that illustrate Psalm 23, but my all time favorite is Psalm Twenty-Three, illustrated by Tim Ladwig. The illustrations are handsomely crafted and depict the ancient, eternal words so wonderfully for children (and adults).

In this version, which takes place in an urban setting, God shepherds two young children with the love they experience in their everyday lives. We see the children rise in the morning and make their way to and from school. They take delight in simple things, such as, autumn leaves, playtime, art lessons, a bubble bath and a favorite toy. They also confront the danger of dark streets and shady characters. In turn, we see God’s love expressed through caring grandparents, teachers and even a crossing guard. We’re reminded of God’s providence through the sharing of a simple meal and a restful home.

What I appreciate about this book is that it speaks to kids in a way that they can understand. The visuals communicate contemporary experiences without being cute, frightening or abstract. This makes the discussion of this book a great tool for teaching. (I read it to my Sunday school kids.) Without the words, the pictures may merely seem to depict an ordinary day. In the context of this caring scripture, children can see how God is intimately involved throughout their lives.

Happy Poetry Reading!

Veronica Walsh
children’s book illustrator

Here is a variety of other wonderfully written and illustrated poetry or poetic stories:

At Jerusalem’s Gate
written by Nikki Grimes, with woodcuts by David Frampton

The House in the Night
by Susan Marie Swanson, illustrated by Beth Krommes

Water Come Down! The Day You Were Baptized
Walter Wangerin, Jr., illustrated by Gerardo Suzan

The Rhyme Bible Storybook
by L.J. Sattgast, illustrations by Toni Goffe

The Christmas Fox and Other Winter Poems
by John Bush, illustrated by Peter Weevers

The Seven Silly Eaters
by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Marla Frazee

Polka Bats and Octopus Slacks
written and illustrated by Calef Brown

Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich
written and illustrated by Adam Rex

Castaway Cats
by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Ponder Goembel

Why Bother Writing in Rhyme?

Although I write in rhyme, I do not profess to have it conquered. Often I will struggle with a line for days, sometimes weeks, trying to get it just right. Even after that, I take it to my critique group and let them help me hone it even more. Often times they see and hear things I miss.

So, since it does not come easily for me, why do I bother trying to write in rhyme? Because I think it is a fun way to tell a story. Children love rhyme! Which of these two appeals to you?

Ten little tiny rabbits
hopping down the row.
One rabbit wants to stop but
nine say, “No! Let’s go!”

Now read the story without rhyme.

Ten rabbits hopped down the row.
One rabbit said, “Let’s stop.” The other rabbits didn’t want to so they said, “No!”

Which do you think a child would prefer reading?

Note there are seven “beats” in the first and third line and five “beats” in the the second and fourth.

Here’s how it looks. I=hard beat, += soft


So, even if you struggle with writing rhyme as I do (you can’t imagine how many times I went over the few lines above!) it will be worth it when children delight in reading your story over and over!
Still learning about rhyme, Gloria