National Poetry Day Blog

Celebrating Rhyming Picture Books

A blog from Keilly Swift, Managing Editor of First News, an award-winning national UK newspaper for children, on the importance of picture books in children’s introduction to poetry and rhyming. Bonus poem kindly written just for us!

Writing and reading text in rhyme brings me such a lot of joy. From a little girl who couldn’t get enough of Dr. Seuss, to a grown-up children’s author and editor, rhyming stories have always been a firm favourite of mine. Now mum to my own little girl, who could recite The Gruffalo word-perfectly by the time she was two, I can see for myself the great importance and power of a story told in rhyme.

When I started writing children’s picture books, I was told numerous times that it is more difficult to get rhyme published in these days of global publishing and international co-editions, which rely on copy that’s easy to translate. However, undeterred, I wrote my first picture book entirely in rhyming verse! The Tigon and the Liger has a serious message about celebrating diversity and loving the skin you’re in and I wanted the accessibility and lightness of touch that rhyme provides. Crafting the story I wanted to tell in rhyme certainly had its challenges, but I didn’t put any limits on word count or nitpick over scansion until I had a completed draft to work with. The first publisher who read it said they loved the message, but asked if I could rewrite the story in prose. I refused and I’m so glad I did, as soon after that The Tigon and the Liger was accepted by Lantana Publishing, who saw the huge value of publishing the story in rhyme.

Undoubtedly children need access to lots of different kinds of stories and texts, but there will always be a place for rhyme, not least because it’s such fun to both read and write! As a reader, I love the anticipation of how a rhyming couplet is going to come together and as an author, nothing beats the satisfaction of finding a rhyme that takes your story where you want it to go and sounds brilliant as well!

As I’ve seen with my own daughter, it’s the rhyming stories and songs that capture young imaginations first, the sounds and rhythm making them them easier and more enjoyable to remember and recite. The Tigon and the Liger was published when my daughter was just three weeks old and she must have heard it in various forms around three million times before she was even born, as I was battling with the editing process, but it still blew me away when she recited her favourite verses back to me. I must admit, she can now take or leave ‘Mummy’s book’, but it’s definitely her collection of rhyming stories that have cemented themselves as the favourites she’ll come back to time and again. I know that’s the same for millions of other children across the globe and also for grown-ups like me who still treasure the magic of the rhyming verse they remember from childhood stories.

I consider it a great honour that my own rhyming picture book has a place on young people’s bookshelves and I hope that the message in the book stays with children all the more because the story is told in rhyme.

So, in honour of National Poetry Day 2019, here is a short poem I have just penned!

For this year’s National Poetry Day,
I’ve written a rhyme in order to say…
Verse can be funny, witty and clever.
The stories it tells can live on forever.

For young and for old the joy knows no bounds,
When words come together with great rhyming sounds.
Full rhymes and half rhymes and eye rhymes, you know…
So cook-book and bug-bag and ‘cough up some dough’!

This poem is rushed, I’m on a train home,
It’s nearly my stop so this won’t be a tome.
But keep reading rhyme and writing it too.
This Poetry Day can inspire you!