Kate Coombs

How to Become a Children's Book Writer

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A Note about Poetry

Children's poetry is a terrible market, though you can try getting in by sending poems to Cricket magazine. (The grown-up poetry market is pretty tough, too, for that matter.) But reading poetry is one way to inspire and refine your imagery as a writer in any genre. Writing it will eventually make you a better writer. I've written more than 500 poems over the years, and each one taught me something about language, expression, and meaning. These are a few of my favorite poets:
  • Grown-up poetry—Basho, Billy Collins, Langston Hughes, Issa, Mary Oliver, and Rainer Maria Rilke
  • Imagistic children's poems—Deborah Chandra, Barbara Juster Esbensen, Kristine O'Connell George, Karla Kuskin, Myra Cohn Livingston, Eve Merriam, Alice Schertle, Marilyn Singer, Robert Louis Stevenson, and especially Valerie Worth
  • Funny children's poems—Douglas Florian, Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein
A few good poetry collections for children:
  • Classic Poems to Read Aloud, ed. James Berry
  • Knock at a Star, ed. X.J. Kennedy and Dorothy M. Kennedy
  • The Random House Book of Poetry for Children, ed. Jack Prelutsky
  • These Small Stones, ed. Norma Farber and Myra Cohn Livingston
  • Treasury of Children's Poetry, ed. Alison Sage
For overall education about poetry, a very clear college text with excellent examples:
  • Western Wind, by John Frederick Nims
And a warning about rhyme: it's hard to rhyme smoothly and elegantly. Rhymed lines tend to sound clonky and predictable, like bad greeting card verse. Watch the masters at work. If you do rhyme, read your work out loud to see if it flows. Then ask a friend to read your poems out loud to you—you may find that they're scanning the rhythm differently, which means you have a problem to work out.

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