Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.
ANN WHITFORD PAUL writes picture books, poetry and early readers. Her books have won numerous awards including NY Times Notable books, Carl Sandburg Award for Children’s Literature, Bank Street College Best Books list, Notable Science and Social Studies Books, National Parenting Centers “Seal of Approval,” 2001 Recognition of Merit from the George C. Stone Center for Children’s Books of the Claremont Graduate University, and been nominated for numerous state reading awards. She teaches writing at UCLA Extension and her new titles include Count on Culebra, If Animals Kissed Good Night and Snail’s Good Night.

I’ve had the pleasure of taking one of Ann’s courses at UCLA and she recently presented a poetry workshop for my SCBWI chapter. She’s a marvelous teacher, master of poetry and has an extremely generous heart.

While many of us love to write in rhyme, not all stories are best told this way. How do you determine if a story is best suited to be written in a rhyme?
This is a tough question. My stories for younger children (toddlers) usually feel poetic from beginning inspiration. I hear a definite beat and the first few lines come easily. That doesn’t mean those lines are any good, or even that they’ll make it into the final manuscript, just that the writing starts out effortlessly. If, on the way, I discover I’m stretching to find rhymes, or the rhythm isn’t solid, and especially if my story goes on too long—over 400 words at most, it’s time to reevaluate.

Just because kids love rhyme and it helps them when it comes to reading, doesn’t mean it’s the best way to tell every story. However, if I do switch to prose, I make sure it’s poetic and that the words I chose bring forth a physical reaction that’s in line with the story. Little Monkey Says Good Night was always in prose, but became poetic when I focused on word sounds and onomatopoetic language. If Animals Kissed Good Night, started out as prose, but felt flat. Switching it into rhyme gave it new life. That’s what I love about writing. Every story is a new adventure.

Do you have any key advice for how to determine if your rhythm and rhyme is working?
The key word for both is consistent. If you start out with a rhyme pattern, you must continue that pattern. If you break the rhyme scheme, there must be a reason related to what’s going on in your story. For example, don’t break the rhyme scheme just because you can’t find the right word. Break the rhyme scheme if your character is suddenly thrown into danger. The same is true for rhythm. In my book Everything to Spend the Night, the girl had unpacked all of her goodies to stay at Grandpa’s. When she discovered she didn’t have her pajamas, I added an extra beat and broke the rhythm to signal to the reader that something was wrong. The best advice I can give regarding determining if your rhythm is working is to have someone else read your work and listen to where the stresses fall. If another person isn’t available, read your lines as though they were prose.

What is your favorite children’s joke?
Q: What is Snake’s favorite subject in school?
A: Hisssssstory.

Thanks, Ann!