August 28, 2023
Have any of you thought about what writing poetry for children vs. for adults looks like?
Much like writing novels vs. picture books, children’s poetry tends to follow a bit of a different pattern than standard poetry. That’s largely to make it easier for kids to follow – especially when they’re younger.
When I work with clients on children’s poetry, here’s what I advise:
- The younger the target audience, the more regular the poems should be. That means a consistent rhyme scheme, just like with rhyming picture books. This is largely to help children just learning to read guess what word is coming next – it helps with reading comprehension! With an older target audience (say, 8-12), you can play with the patterns a bit more.
- Similarly, make sure your meter is regular. I’d say stick to this as much as possible for any child audience. Note that a little bit of variation, a trimmed syllable here and there, is a good idea, but not jumping between metrical schemes, especially without reason.
- Metaphors and other comparisons are still fine in children’s poetry, but they need to be accessible to the kids reading it.
- Specificity can be helpful. If you put forward a concept that might be new or vague to kids (especially young ones), consider adding a stanza or a line detailing what you’re talking about. Remember, unlike with a picture book, there won’t necessarily be illustrations to provide context – the words have to do more of the lifting.
Again, a lot of this is age-dependent. If your poems are for five-year-olds, make sure the metaphors are simpler, the language clear, and the meter and rhyme as regular as possible. If your audience is twelve, you can mix things up so long as the content remains relatable and entertaining for that age group.
And make sure to read children’s poetry! See what you like and what you don’t like about what you find, what you want to emulate and what you’d like to do away with. And if you approach an editor, tell them those preferences so they can work with them. It’s possible the editor might try and make a case for a different approach, especially at the developmental editing stage, but always remember – it’s ultimately your call. (Though do consider what your editor is saying before making a final decision – knee jerk reactions aren’t helpful in writing!)
Do you have children’s poetry you’d like edited? Send me a message! And let me know who your favourite children’s poets are in the comments 😊