An ode to the children’s book authors who understand meter.
If you’re the parent, guardian, or frequent caretaker of young children, you quickly learn that one of your primary tasks—up there with trying to decipher the cause of an out-of-nowhere screaming fit and explaining why we don’t throw rocks at friends—is reading the same books. Over and over and over and over.
Because I love books, and am not always successful in projecting my likes and dislikes on my kid, I am generally delighted when she demands books, even the ones I’m extremely sick of. But there’s a special pleasure in reading a rhyming children’s book whose author has at least a basic grasp of meter.
Because my daughter is not yet two and has terrible taste, she loves the poetic mess of an (unnamed) Easter-themed counting book just as much as she does the brilliant, metrically perfect work of Sandra Boynton. As the designated reader, though, I always appreciate a book whose rhythm doesn’t remind me of the futility of my poetry MFA—I get enough of that in literally every other avenue of life. When a writer attends to the meter, it barely matters if the book’s content is cloying or Easter-themed—you can just relax and let the rhythm wash over you. Almost like sleeping! Ah, sleeping.
So, to the writers who counted those stressed syllables, thank you for making Little Blue Truck and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and Hippos Go Berserk! and The Gruffalo such joyous reads, even on the dozenth go-round I defy you to name a first line more inviting than “A mouse took a stroll through the deep dark wood. / A fox saw the mouse and the mouse looked good.”
And to the writers who haven’t quite figured it out, I know a few hundred poets who would be happy to consult, and they all work for cheap.