• West Cork Literary Festival 2021

Picture Books: To Rhyme Or Not To Rhyme by Sarah Webb

Writing.ie | Resources | Writing for Children & YA
sarah-webb

Sarah Webb

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I was doing some intense thinking about picture books last night. My writing class asked me why I’m not keen on rhyming picture books and I didn’t have a coherent answer for them. But I do now!

Some of My Picture Book Collection

When I got home I read dozens of rhyming and non rhyming pictures books. Every month I am sent review copies of all the new titles (and proofs or early reading copies) by the various Irish and UK publishers, and I read ALL the picture books and as many of the novels as I can. So I get a great overview of what’s going on in the world of children’s books.

When I was the children’s book buyer at Waterstone’s and then Eason’s I saw the covers and titles of up to 8,000 children’s books a year. Booksellers are a font of knowledge when it comes to children’s books, trends, titles, covers etc. I’m proud to say I still work with booksellers, as a consultant with Dubray Books.

So what conclusion did I come to after my late night read?

A large number of rhyming picture books are all about concept (love, ABC, 123, colour) and it’s hard to get emotion and conflict into even the best of them.Yes, yes I know Julia Donaldson manages to pack her books with emotion (and others do too – Madeline, Millions of Cats, Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes etc) but she is one in a million.

Non-rhyming picture books are all about story, character and emotion.

I like books that squeeze my heart, books full of emotion and power. Owl Babies, Where the Wild Things Are, Lost and Found, The Heart and the Bottle, Monster Mama (see below for details).

I hate insipid, badly rhyming picture books about loving your mummy (who is also a teddy dressed in human clothing). Managing to make the last words on each line rhyme does not magically turn a writer into a poet. The whole line has to sing.

I’ll leave you with this: award winning picture book maker, Marie Louise Fitzpatrick talking a lot of sense about picture books that rhyme:

And for the record here are my all time top 10 favourite picture books (not the best books, or the ones that have won the most awards, the ones I love the most). Books I could not live without:

1/ Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak

Is there a better picture book?

2/ Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Patrick Benson

Love it – and it has my name in it!

3/ Lost and Found – Oliver Jeffers

Oliver is exceptional. One of the greatest picture book talents Ireland has ever produced.

4/ Busy Busy World – Richard Scarry

My childhood is embedded in this book.

5/ The Elephant and the Bad Baby by Elfrida Vipont, illustrated by Raymond Briggs

Loved it as a child, love it now.

6/ The Red Tree –  Shaun Tan

The illustrations make me shiver, they’re so good. I also love Rules of Summer. All his work in fact.

7/ Monster Mama by Liz Rosenberg, illustrated by Stephen Gammell

Incredible book about a mother and her son, bullying and the power of love.

8/ Alfie Gets in First – Shirley Hughes

Best writer for toddlers ever. Her domestic scenes sing with love.

9/ Peter’s Chair – Ezra Jack Keats

Exceptional picture book from 1967 about sibling rivalry. I was read it first when my sister was born and it’s stayed with me all that time.

10/ Fighting it out for the last slot – I can’t choose. There so many amazing picture book makers. Jon Klassen is my pick for today. I Want My Hat Back. But I also adore Dr Suess (who doesn’t?), although may of his books are more illustrated books than picture books (maybe Richard Scarry’s too?) A topic for another day. And for pure illustration, Lizbeth Zwerger all the way. Journey by Aaron Becker is pretty special too (wordless picture book). So many pretty books …

(c) Sarah Webb

About the author

Sarah Webb is a best selling author and has written 36 books – read our interview with her here about her latest book for children, Mollie Cinnamon is Not a Cupcake (Walker Books)

Sarah also curates the Family and Schools programmes for many events including the Mountains to Sea Festival

Check out www.sarahwebb.ie for more info.

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