Children’s Books: Poetry? Prose? Narrative? Oh My!

Over the past year, as my interest in Children’s literature has been growing, I’ve been reading a lot of children’s books.  Like a lot a lot. The more picture books I read, I start to notice the ones that catch my interest the most, and the ones I end up re-reading several times in a row, are the ones that feel the most poetic.  By that I mean that even though the language may appear to be “simple” the language is actually rich in complex diction, syntax, and imagery–not to mention attention to rhythm, sounds, and pacing.  Sound familiar?  Like a poem maybe?    Let’s take a look at my latest obsession: Once Upon an Alphabet, by Oliver Jeffers.

*Spoiler Alert: A isn't for Apple*
*Spoiler Alert: A isn’t for Apple*

Here’s of my favorite letters in the book (although I have several favorites, let’s be honest).  The story is titled “C: Cup in the Cupboard.”

Just a friendly reminder that "cupboard" has a really annoying spelling.

It's all fun & games until you decide to go for it.
It’s all fun & games until you decide to go for it.

As I was reading the book I couldn’t help but look at each story as a little poem because of the way the stories are framed as stanzas.  I’m not sure if Jeffers would call them stanzas, but it’s not a stretch to consider them as such.  While I typically try to get the most milage out of line breaks by pushing the line to its most dramatic potential (without being too dramatic) if you read this story/poem it’s pretty clear the lines are broken where it sounds natural, because the nature of of picture books are usually to be read aloud to children.  This really isn’t too far from poetry at all.

I could go on and on about why I consider picture books a super close relative to poetry, but I’d love to see what other people think about this!  Has anyone else thought these genres as being related?  Is there anything else about this mini story that captures your attention poetically/artistically?  I’d love to hear your comments!

5 Replies to “Children’s Books: Poetry? Prose? Narrative? Oh My!”

  1. It’s funny that you posted this tonight because I just came back from the library, specifically the children’s section, reading Ladybug Girl (definitely a stress reliever). It doesn’t have aligned stanzas the way your example does…but it reads rather rhythmically. Page breaks could possibly function as line breaks, as each new page displays a different illustration, its own stanza. There is much more craft put into children’s books than one would first think. I had a creative writing teacher in high school who was working on his first children’s book at the time, and I can imagine his education in poetry helped him out.

  2. Great post! I remember a few weeks ago talking to you about this, and I definitely agree that picture books are very close to (if not already) poetry. Reading that one stanza (or whatever one should call it), “Unfortunately, he forgot that/ the counter was a long way/down, and made of concrete.” is really, really good. Like, reallyyyy good! If one were to just take that and plop it on a page by itself anyone would easily say that it’s part of a poem.

    I always believed that a person should know poetry to write a children’s book. They all flow, and have a certain rhythm to them. All children’s literature has a continuous narrative that can only span a few pages. Doesn’t that sound and feel like poetry??

  3. It’s so weird, I’ve always sort of linked poetry and children’s lit in my head, but never really understood why; I’ve started thinking about writing children’s books more and more since taking poetry classes. Whenever I think of the books I loved as a child they all had something in them that I see us trying to strive for in our poetry now: rhyme (internal or otherwise), lines that stand out, expression of something larger told through the mundane (or silly) which can be compared to how we’re trying to accomplish the objective correlative. Thanks for this post!

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