Part of the nature of good rhyming texts is that they are a joy to read and roll off the tongue, but that does NOT mean they slide off the ballpoint without hours of sweat and stress. The English Language may be rich in words, shades of meaning and overall loveliness, but it’s comparatively poor when it comes to rhyme, especially true rhymes. Here are some technical points and tips that are worth keeping in mind:
1. True rhymes are best because they are the easiest to read and clearest for children. But they are very difficult to keep up. A rhyme is true if it rhymes on the last stressed syllable, with all subsequent unstressed syllables being identical. For example: HAIR-i-ness and SCAR-i-ness. Some words have large numbers of true rhymes (‘-IGHT’ words, for example) but most will have very few, and given the restricted vocabulary of writing for the very young, this fact makes rhyming in picture books a real challenge. The clever way round this, and the most fun, is to seek out near-true rhymes (NOR-wich and PORR-idge). The very worst thing you can do is fall back on forced rhymes.
2. Alliteration is more than just using words that start with the same letter. It’s about unifying a line and creating points of contact between lines. It only works with stressed syllables (the lurid allure of London), regardless of whether or not they begin a word, and is all too easy to overdo. It’s much better to have just two alliterated syllables in a line than to try and squeeze in as many as possible. And don’t forget, a Big Brown Bear is also a Big Fat Cliché.
3. Don’t forget assonance! The overlooked but secretly rather wonderful cousin of alliteration, assonance is rhyme in stressed vowel sounds, and a subtle way to unify a line (his little sister’s slipper). To be used sparingly but cleverly.
4. Metre and syllable count ARE important. Forced scansion is just as bad as forced rhyme, since it can cause a reader to stumble. The whole point of metre is to make the verse predictable. Any ambiguity in either rhyme or scansion is likely to wreck your text, because…
5. …picture book readers are usually not children at all, but ADULTS. This is important because sadly many parents are reluctant to read to their children even at the best of times. But at the end of the day, after work and a long commute followed by screaming fits over broccoli, even reading a short bedtime story can seem onerous. You will win friends amongst parents if you give them something effortless to read and you will make the children smile if you give them vivid rhymes they can shout out and a rhythm they can anticipate. Add a dollop of fun and you’re done!