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Three ways to add Poetry to Your Picture Books

Poetry makes my heart sing. Rudyard Kipling’s, STOPPING BY THE WOODS ON A SNOWY EVENING and Emily Dickinson’s, I’M NOBODY are permanently seared into my memory from childhood recitations.

I memorize poetry with my children. We can recite IF and DO NOT GO GENTLE INTO THAT GOOD NIGHT and O CAPTAIN MY CAPTAIN.

And I’ve loved writing poetry since my first published poem in my 3rd grade school newsletter:

“...he howled and yowled all through the town,

which made the sheriff frown.

And that is why my dog’s in jail

and that’s the end of my tale.”

My book, Mootilda’s Bad Mood is written in rhyme, and I’m currently working on a YA novel in verse.

Any time is the perfect time to experiment with poetry. Here are three tips for adding it to your picture book manuscripts.

  1. Read (or memorize) poetry every day. Reading poetry helps you realize what works. I’m subscribed to Jane Yolen’s poem a day newsletter, so her poetry comes to my inbox daily. Email to be added to her list. And I’ve got most of Mootilda memorized. Here’s one of my favorite stanzas:

This day’s been a cow-tastrophe!

I think I’ve got a curse.”

The chickens clucked. “You’ve got bad luck?

Our day’s been even worse!”

  1. Experiment with literary devices. Add assonance, alliteration, metaphor, simile, onomatopoeia, metaphors, wordplay. My newest release, Cow Says Meow, is a story of mixed up onomatopeia and wordplay alone.


That cat sounds hoarse!

  1. Read your work aloud. Listen for sounds that go well together, sounds that make you stumble, sounds that delight your ears. Here’s a free verse poem I wrote. When I was revising, I read it out loud so I could decide how to change it.

Daddy Long Legs

I see your shadow--

Eight angled knees looming over my journal--

An anorexic octopus sans ink.

Delicate as a bird’s wings--

Ravenous for my words,

The things of my heart...

But I wonder about you--

A spider, confider, an object of beauty...

A creature unruly, unchecked by your duty.

®Kirstine Call

How do you add poetry to your picture books?

Bio: Kirsti Call is the co-host of the Picture Book Look Podcast and the co-coordinator of ReFoReMo. She reads, reviews, revises and critiques every day as a 12x12 elf, a blogger for Writer's Rumpus, and a member of critique groups. She's judged the CYBILS award for fiction picture books since 2015. Kirsti's picture book, MOOTILDA'S BAD MOOD (Little Bee) debuts fall 2020. COW SAYS MEOW (HMH) and COLD TURKEY (Little Brown) release in 2021. Kirsti is represented by Emma Sector at Prospect Agency.



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