November 20



Like many people, my first introduction to rhyming was through music. As a child, I memorized lots of songs at my mother’s pre-school as she strummed away on her auto-harp. Then there was the Free to Be You and Me album, Multiplication Rock, Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein—it seemed like the ̓70s were filled with great rhyming verse.


For my most recent book, A Songbird Dreams of Singing: Poems about Sleeping Animals, I spent many pleasurable hours searching for rhymes that sounded as natural as possible, which meant picking words that might have been used even if the poem did not rhyme. I know from experience that it takes only one forced rhyme to ruin a poem. Suddenly, the reader has forgotten about the poem and is instead focused on the clumsy failure of the poet.


When choosing a form, I try not to overthink the decision. I commit to a form and usually don’t change to another unless I’m really stuck. I also spend lots of time reading aloud everything I write, not only to assess my rhyme, but to make sure that that the meter works and that the poem is not too difficult to say. Some sounds just shouldn’t be next to each other. (Remember the 30 Rock episode about the Rural Juror? Try saying that even once!)


For A Songbird Dreams of Singing, I decided to write a pantoum about how ancient lemurs on the east coast of Africa accidentally drifted out to sea while hibernating. Eventually they washed up in Madagascar, a virtual paradise, with many natural resources and few predators. The pantoum seemed fitting for this topic because the repetition of lines creates a dreamlike effect. I pictured the lemurs in a hazy state of hibernation where they might wake up, assess their situation, and then go right back to sleep.


Art by Jennifer M. Potter, from A Songbird Dreams of Singing


The Lemurs’ Journey to Madagascar


For those who left by accident

So many million years ago

How many hazy weeks were spent

Captive to the current’s flow?


So many years ago

Quiet, resting while at sea,

Captive to the current’s flow

While drifting on a fallen tree.


Quiet, resting while at sea,

(The ceaseless blue, the starry night)

While drifting on a fallen tree.

When they awake—a paradise!


The ceaseless blue, the starry nights,

How many hazy weeks were spent?

When they awake, a paradise

For those who left by accident.


I love the way that pantoums sound, but I also rely on the diversion they provide; while my left brain is trying to figure out the logic puzzle of the structure, my right brain is freed up to create the actual poem.


Sometimes, I like the challenge of using a short poetic form. Consider the triolet, an eight-line poem where the first and last stanzas are the same, as are lines one and four. You must also use a rhyme scheme of a,b,a,a,a,b,a,b. I used this form for my poem about sleeping otters, but decided to do it from the point of view of a mother otter addressing her child. The brevity and repetition felt right here. The mother otter is trying to issue her warning in a simple manner, but can’t resist repeating herself.


Art by Jennifer M. Potter, from A Songbird Dreams of Singing


Mother Otter Gives Advice to Her Pup


Sleeping otter, swirling sea,

Be careful not to float away.


Hold my hand—stay close to me,

Sleeping otter, swirling sea.


This kelp, so long and tangly

Will help you not to go astray.


Sleeping otter, swirling sea,

Be careful not to float away!



Why is rhyme important for our young readers? Children naturally delight in good rhyming poetry, and pleasure is certainly its primary purpose. Rhyming can also serve as a helpful mnemonic device, making the poems easier to memorize and recite. Those children who are interested in understanding the architecture of a rhyming poem might also begin to appreciate that poems do not descend fully formed from above. Rather, they are carefully crafted and need to be revised, like any other form of writing. I also hope that these rhyming poems will provide a playful and interesting way for readers to learn about the fascinating world of animal sleep.


Kate Hosford is the author of five picture books including Infinity and Me, which garnered many awards including a Bank Street Best of the Year, an ALA notable, was a JLG selection and many others. Her books have sold in half a dozen languages. Kate lives in Brooklyn, NY. You can read more about her newest book, A Songbird Dreams of Singing, here.