How to Write Rhyming Picture Books: A Rhyme With Reason

Wondering how to write rhyming picture books? Consider this first: There’s a fairly strong consensus out there that some editors are moving away from rhyming picture books right now. One reason for this, as I see it, is that picture books in general are evolving. They’re being acquired by younger editors, they’re being purchased by cooler parents, they’re becoming modern and… if I dare say… maybe even hip. Not all picture books, of course, because lists and houses have room for the traditional, beautiful picture book reminiscent of the good old days of yore. But there’s definitely been innovation, and that’s crucial to remember when you’re considering writing rhymes for your picture book.

how to write rhyming picture books, writing rhymes
Bubble trouble! It’s a good thing if the rhyme is an integral part of the story.

How to Write Rhyming Picture Books: Should You Even Try?

Rhyming picture books — especially those written in rhyming couplets — take us back to more traditional picture book legacy. That’s not bad, per se, but with all the new styles and ideas hitting the shelves, the more traditional is becoming a more difficult sell. Here are some other reasons to re-think the “how to write rhyming picture books” question:

  1. They’re old hat. See above.
  2. Not everyone is good at writing rhymes. And, in this market, it has to be brilliant, fresh, unique, imaginative, unexpected… No lazy or conventional rhyme will cut it.
  3. There also has to be a reason for the rhyme. Too many times, I feel like a manuscript’s rhyme is forced or dictates the story… that the author is making decisions based on which words would fit into their scheme, not based on which words would make the best possible storytelling sense.

If you’re considering how to write  a rhyming picture book, ask yourself this question: Why does it need to rhyme? If you answer: “Because that’s how a picture book goes” or “Because that reminds me of the books I read as a kid/to my children/to my grandchildren,” then that might not be reason enough.

Two Good Reasons to Write in Rhyme

If you really want to dig into how to write rhyming picture books, though, here are two good reasons to do so. One of the most compelling reasons to rhyme, in my opinion, is if you are an author who relishes playing with the language. It’s also a good thing if the rhyme is an integral part of the story. I read a book a little while ago that blew my mind with its dizzying, sprawling, complicated rhyme. If there was no rhyme in this book, there’d be no book! If you’re up to the challenge of writing rhymes in the current climate, definitely add BUBBLE TROUBLE (Clarion, 2009, by Margaret Mahy and illustrated by Polly Dunbar) to your bookshelf.

Hire me as your picture book editor and we can dig into your rhyming text together. All picture book edits include feedback on other picture book ideas you might have!