PICTURE BOOK KNOWHOW How to write winning rhyme

In the second of her strand on writing picture books, Lucy Rowland offers some insights on the magic of rhyming prose. 

I love writing in rhyme and I really love reading rhyming picture books by other authors. But here’s the thing with rhyme…it can be tricky! And rhyming texts that don’t scan well or sound forced and unnatural are a real turn off. Here are a few things I’ve learnt to avoid or consider when writing in rhyme.

John Downman Witches from Macbeth
Hubble bubble... Shakespeare's witches use rhyme to seal spells.
Photo credit: John Downman, WIkicommons

Avoid using overly simple or clichéd rhyme. Juliet Clare Bell wrote a great post for Picture Book Den called ‘How not to write a rhyming picture book’. In it she explained that some overly simple rhyming texts are the kind of things that can often be written ‘in-house’ by publishers themselves. 

Don’t use near rhymes. ‘Mud’ and ‘Bug’ don’t rhyme, ‘Quest’ and ‘Mess’ don’t rhyme. ‘Fire and Desired’ don’t rhyme. If it doesn’t work perfectly find another way to say it. 

Consider accents and regional dialects. Kate Wilson, Managing Director of Nosy Crow, is from Edinburgh and wrote that she always runs texts through her head in a Scottish accent to check that the words don’t just rhyme in RP English. Also there are some words that we pronounce with a different number of syllables depending on our accents. For example ‘fire’ and ‘predatory’. What if you are trying to rhyme ‘Lightning’ with ‘Brightening’? Does that work? It might sound OK to some people but not to others. 

Cat in the Hat
Rhyme can make a funny moment hilarious.

Don’t use unnatural word order to force rhyme. E.g. ‘It is raining and wet. In the car I must get’. In Picture Book Author, Josh Funk’s ‘12-Step Guide to writing Picture Books’, he refers to this as ‘Yoda Rhyme’. 

Consider co-editions. I love complex rhyming patterns with lots of internal rhyme but I was once told by a publisher to consider using simpler rhyming patterns as these can be easier to translate into other languages. 

Don’t let the rhyme dictate the story. Remember that story is always key! You are writing a rhyming picture book not a poem. You could try writing your story out in prose to check that the structure is really solid before writing it in rhyme. 

What are some of your favourite rhyming picture books?


Lucy Rowland grew up in Cheltenham and now works as a children's speech and language therapist and author in London. From a young age, she has loved reading and listening to poetry and she enjoys creating children's picture book stories with quirky characters and irresistible rhythms. 

Her recent books include: Little Red Reading Hood, Catch That Egg, Pirate Pete and His Smelly Feet and Jake Bakes a Monster Cake (Macmillan). Gecko's Echo (pictured), The Birthday Invitation (Bloomsbury) and The Knight Who Said No (Nosy Crow).

Helen Liston is KnowHow Editor. If you have any ideas for KnowHow topics, get in touch at knowhow@britishscbwi.org


  1. Thank you for such a useful tips! I try to write poems by myself, but I feel that I'm still not good enough at this. And if with an essays I don't have any problems (as I write a lot of essays daily for edubirdie.ca), I need to improve my skills in poems. And to fight with the temptation of using the near rhymes...

  2. Good tip about the accents.


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