One of my favourite books published a couple of years ago was Ursula Dubosarsky’s ‘A Terrible Plop’, illustrated by Andrew Joyner and published by Viking, Penguin Group Australia. Shortlisted in the 2010 CBCA Book of the Year (Early childhood section), ‘A Terrible Plop’ is living proof that writing stories for children in rhyme is still alive and well.
Now don’t get me wrong, being a children’s poet who loves to write in rhyme, believe me when I say that writing in rhyme is no easy feat. The trouble with writing in this genre is that many would be rhymers focus too strongly on the rhyme and they forget about the rhythm and more importantly they often completely forget about the story. A story written in rhyme is just that, a story written in rhyme, not a rhyme written in rhyme.
‘The Terrible Plop’ is about the story, the meter or rhythm is impeccable and the rhyme is incidental, an added bonus, the icing on the cake. Children enjoy rhyme because of its predicability but it is the story that keeps them reading, the ‘what happens next’ factor. What is The Terrible Plop? This is what we want to know. What is it that has all the animals so spooked?
A good way to decide if a story in rhyme is up to standard is to write it in prose first. Take Dr Seuss’ ‘Horton Hears A Who’ written in rhyme or not, this is a wonderful story full of tension, action, surprise and of course resolution. The theme being that a person is a person no matter their size. A simple message delivered in an entertaining fashion.
Ursula’s subtle message or underlying theme is about facing your fears, being afraid but continuing anyway. Mixing such an important lesson with rhyme and rhythm is a recipe for success. Stories in rhyme, in themselves, are fun and joyful, juxtaposed with a serious message will ensure the longevity of the book. Again Dr. Suess’ books have been around for over fifty years.