boy with book3

What is iambic pentameter? If you’ve read Shakespeare or Dr. Seuss, you’ve seen it. And chances are if you’ve read any published rhyming or lyrical children’s book in today’s market, you’ve read iambic pentameter. In fact, it is the most common type of verse in English literature. In a nut shell, iambic pentameter is a type of “metrical rhythm” used in poetry and stories written in verse.  It is very specific as to syllable count and the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables. You would be surprised (I was) about how important these rules are in kids’ lit, and editors are very keen on it.

Without getting too technical, here is a very simplified explanation of how to recognize iambic pentameter:

My Wishing Star is a slight departure from iambic pentameter, only in the sense that it has fewer “feet” per stanza, but still must follow the same rules of stresses and rhythm. It also follows the ABCB rhyme scheme, which is one of the most common.

Here is one of the verses from My Wishing Star that follows perfect iambic meter (da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM):

I paused along my evening walk.
What glimmered from afar?
I moved the leaves and cleared the brush
to find a little star.

Same verse showing stressed syllables in CAPS:

what GLIMMered FROM aFAR?

Did you read it the same way the second time as you did the first? You should have.

Iambic pentameter (or iambic meter in general) I have discovered is widely considered one of the most “acceptable” styles for rhyming stories in kids’ lit. After looking into why this is, I understood the linguistic reasons behind it. Some having to do with how kids are just beginning to learn and understand spoken language (many think iambic meter flows more like natural speech would). Other reasons having to do with how a story will be absolutely butchered upon reading if people do not stress words a certain way throughout a sentence… It is true. I’ve had early versions of my manuscript-in-progress read aloud to me by people who have not yet seen it, and I was amazed at how utterly bad it sounded. Did these people just not know how to read that well?? No… it was because my meter was simply lousy.

After learning all this, I will never look at another children’s book in the same way! And I find myself even better able to read children’s books as they were meant to be read.

And certainly after reading this, I began to look at my manuscript under a completely different light (it caused much scrapping!). But I now know that if the meter doesn’t work, the entire book will fall apart. I am constantly working out kinks with the meter as I revise.