BALLET: Rhymes with GIVEAWAY!

Okay, first of all, NO, ballet does not rhyme with giveaway! Interviewee Renée M. LaTulippe and I have spent a lot of time over the years explaining the reason why two such words do not rhyme. We’ll get to that later in the post. First, let me introduce Renée’s book, CRAB BALLET!

Releasing next week (March 8) from Cameron Kids, illustrated by Cécile Metzger, CRAB BALLET marks Renée’s picture book debut. Here’s a little of what Kirkus has to say about the book: “LaTulippe weaves plenty of French and English ballet terms (pas de chatarabesquefifth position, etc.) into the text and defines them in a skillfully child-friendly closing glossary. Metzger’s delicate watercolor illustrations use a palette dominated by the trademark elegant pinks of ballet costumes and have all the softness of ballerina tulle… A fun introduction to ballet that will also inspire an appreciation for marine life.”

Although this is Renée’s picture book debut, it is not, by any stretch, her PRINT debut. She has co-authored award-winning leveled readers, and her poems have appeared in numerous anthologies. Writers by the thousands have benefited from her “Lyrical Language Lab” courses and YouTube videos. I first encountered Renée when our mutual friend Sylvia Liu (who co-hosts the amazing Kidlit411 with Elaine Kiely Kearns) encouraged me to pop in on a virtual critique session Renée was hosting from her home in Italy. By the end of the session, I think I had given myself an overuse injury of the neck from nodding so often. While I’m an innate rhymer, Renée not only knows all those big poetry words like “anapest” and “trochee,” she also knows how to use them in a sentence. I kid, but honestly, I am always awed by her ability to kindly but concisely point out why a rhyme is not working. (Spoiler: usually it’s the meter, but not always.)

KN: Welcome, Renée! First, tell us about yourself. How’d you end up in sunny Italy?

RL: Thanks for having me on Picture Book Builders, Kim!

As for Italy — oh, you know, it’s your typical girl-meets-boy tale! After some years studying theater and dragging along my own little theater company in NYC, I decided to get my MA and become a HS teacher. I’d just finished my second year of teaching English, theater, and public speaking and I was wiped out. Hardest thing I’ve ever done. So I took off for Siena, Italy with some teacher friends. It was blazing HOT in the city so I went to the bus station and said “Please send me to the sea,” and the guy gave me a ticket to this gorgeous medieval town with sea, sand, sun, and a castle. I met my future husband that day on the beach and six months later I moved to Italy. That was twenty years ago, and here we still are in our house by the sounding sea.

This is my warm-weather office.

KN: I know you and I share a common love of theater. But now, reading CRAB BALLET, I’m pretty sure you have a lot more experience with dance than I do. Has dance been a big part of your life?

RL: Not even a little bit! And I say that with regret, since it’s one of those unrealized dreams in the drawer, along with figure skating and playing piano. During my undergrad theater days, I did take a few tap and jazz classes, but those things were expensive and I was a starving artist, so I couldn’t sustain it. I got by being one of those “actors who move well” — or so I thought until I decided to try a ballet class! Oh my, it was like someone had strapped cement blocks to all my appendages — I’d never felt so galumphy in my life!

So although I don’t have much personal experience, I do have a lifelong love of all types of dance. I remember going to see Romeo & Juliet at the NYC Ballet and crying from start to finish because it was too beautiful to bear. I was wowed by performances from Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance project and Alvin Ailey’s American Dance Theater to the hip hop dancers in Times Square. You can imagine my delight when So You Think You Can Dance first aired! I’ve always thought dancing must feel like flying, and I have so much respect for the craft, dedication, and sacrifice it takes to be a dancer.

KN: I LOVE that even if a reader (like me!) wouldn’t immediately know how to pronounce some of the words (because they’re all from the French, correct?) it’s brilliant that the rhymes immediately help me know how to say the word. You must have had fun with that.

RL: You know what? That’s just a happy accident. I can’t take credit for doing it on purpose! The rhyme scheme of this book is a beast, so fitting those French ballet terms in there took equal measures of hyperventilation and luck. It certainly helped that many French words have the accent on the last syllable — et voilà, a gift to my meter!

But you’re not the first to tell me that the rhyme scheme helps with the pronunciation of some of those terms, so I’m grateful for that. The English language contains a ton of loan words from French in particular, but also from Italian, Spanish, Latin, German, and other languages. I think it’s important to mine the language for all its riches, and that certainly includes these loan words.

Just for kicks, here are the permutations of the dolphin stanza…

KN: Oh GIRL! I can SO relate to overusing small words like “then” and “now” to help with the meter. I always enjoy a text that goes beyond mere end rhyme to tickle my ears WITHIN the lines as well. Lines like your description of the sea urchin as “a tiny, spiny dynamo.” Can you talk about your process of taking your words to the next level this way?

RL: Oh, it’s my favorite part of the writing and revision process! And it’s really the heart of what I teach in my Lyrical Language Lab course — finding the music in the language. That music comes from poetic devices like alliteration, assonance, consonance, internal rhyme, slant rhyme, and onomatopoeia. [[Kim interjecting to say, “See? TOLD ya’ she knew all those big, beautiful poetry words!”]] The phrase “tiny, spiny dynamo” uses internal rhyme and assonance, and I admit I was tickled when it popped out! It’s one of my favorite little bits.

While many of these things just come intuitively, I certainly do read my work aloud over and over to hear where it’s musical, where it’s blah, and where it’s hitting sour notes. I can’t stress enough how important it is to say it out loud a thousand times — and not just for rhyming texts. It’s equally important for prose to find pleasing rhythms and sounds. [[Kim again: there she goes, giving me another head-nodding injury!’]] Then when I come to those off-key parts, I hit the thesaurus and Google images for inspiration. My goal is always to create very specific images, so finding just the right words is essential. Then I read it aloud again, top to bottom, several times, and then repeat the process until I have something lovely.

I took this pic in 2016 when I was struggling with a revision my agent had asked for before going on submission. So many lists of words!

KN: While I write rhyme and meter innately, I seem to have no space in my head to remember the names of metrical feet. Which is why I always send budding rhyme writers to the Youtube videos in your Lyrical Language Lab. (And that’s not just because you said such nice things about my GIVE ME BACK MY BONES!) You are so dang good at explaining why the meter does or doesn’t work. How do you DO that?!

RL: Haha, I have no idea. How does a fish swim? I mean, I have been teaching Lyrical Language Lab since 2014, so I’ve had more practice than the average bear. And I do love teaching, so it may be a combination of knowing the material really well and knowing innately how to break concepts down into easy-to-learn bits.

I know several writers like you who are amazing at rhyme but have no idea what an iamb is — and that’s okay! I don’t think it’s even necessary to know these things if you just do it naturally. But for mere mortals who might need a helping hand, this knowledge is essential for learning to recognize the difference in meters, to hear the various rhythms, and to understand when something is not working and how to fix it. Having a common vocabulary is also very helpful if you’re critiquing rhyming texts.

KN: (Who now, aside from that neck injury, is also nursing a stress fracture from containing the urge to insert an “iamb” pun.) Renée says she’s often curious about what else people would be happy doing. Iamb, too! (Sorry. My late father would never have forgiven me if I’d left that pun on the table.)

RL: So let’s talk about … missing the boat. I’m always interested in lost opportunities. As in, is there a skill or career path you think you would have excelled at if you had 1) known it was even an option and/or 2) you’d made different choices. (And here I pause to say this always reminds me of Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice who says, referring to playing the piano: “If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient.”)

I have two of these, actually. One is that I got the wrong master’s degree. My aunt the missionary nun always told me that since I loved language and wanted to live overseas, I should get a degree in TEFL. Did I take this excellent advice? I did not. Instead I got the degree in teaching English in secondary schools, and it simply did not ignite my passion.

The more exciting one is that I should have gone into theatrical costume design instead of directing/acting. I adore costuming, and it would have allowed me to have a creative career in theater.

Here are some daywear/evening wear 18th-century costumes I made for Carnevale in Venice some years ago, including hats, panniers, and boned corsets, completely hand sewn and embroidered following a pattern from the time period. Had I ever learned to sew, I should have been a great proficient.

What about you?

KN: How kind of you to ask! Oddly enough, I think I would have enjoyed a career in science. I’m a science podcast geek. I think the perfect field would have been the study of language, melding my love of words with science. These days, I get my science fix from phone calls with my younger son, who’s working on a chem doctorate from Wake Forest… although half of our phone calls fly right over my head! Renée, thank you so much for spending time with us on the PBB blog!

Oh and as promised, revisiting my first sentence about WHY “ballet” and “giveaway” do not rhyme: Renée did a “book look” at my own GIVE ME BACK MY BONES in the Lyrical Language Lab. Cross my heart, I’m not sharing this particular video because she called me a genius. (Although I’m pretty danged flattered!) She does an incredible job of explaining how rhyme relies on METER as much as SOUND to make a perfect rhyme. She always explains this stuff better than I do! Here’s the link: BOOK LOOK

[[Final edit and interjection, I promise! Renée, who really does possess greater knowledge about this stuff, has gently pointed out to me that “ballet” and “giveaway” DO rhyme because “way” gets a secondary stress. I think I say the word so quickly that the entire latter half of the word gets buried under the heavy stress of “give” but then… I’m from the south, where “ghee-uv” gets a whole ‘nother syllable. (winky emoji.) See how tricky this rhyming biz can be?!]]

READERS, be sure to pop in with a comment below for a chance to win a copy of CRAB BALLET! Here’s a comment idea: Tell Renée what career boat you think you might have enjoyed besides the ride you’re sailing now.

Renée M. LaTulippe is the author of The Crab Ballet (Cameron Kids/Abrams, 2022) and Limelight: Theater Poems to Perform (Charlesbridge, TBA) and has poems published in many anthologies.

Renée developed and teaches the online course The Lyrical Language Lab and provides free lessons and critiques for children’s writers on her YouTube channel. She has a BFA in acting/directing and an MA in English Education. She lives by the sea in Italy with her husband and three children.

She is represented by Elizabeth Harding at Curtis Brown.

Website: www.reneelatulippe.com

YouTube: Lyrical Language Lab

Instagram: @renee_m_latulippe

Twitter: @ReneeMLaTulippe

Kim Norman

Kim Norman is the author of more than twenty children’s books, already or soon to be in print, published by Sterling; Scholastic; Penguin/Random House; Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Candlewick, and Abrams. Calling herself a “Bedtime reading evangelist,” Kim has been invited to countless schools around the US and even wrote a book on the subject with the embarrassingly mercenary title, SELL BOOKS AND GET PAID DOING AUTHOR SCHOOL VISITS. The parents of two grown sons, Kim and her husband live in Smithfield, Virginia, with two dogs in a little house shaded by giant pecan trees. Read more about Kim and her books at kimnorman.com.

79 Comments:

  1. Angie Quantrell

    What a great discussion about rhyme! I do not know all of the words, but when there is a glimmer of understanding (like when I read this post), it’s so exciting! Thanks so much, Renee and Kim! I too would have loved to live overseas (France), writing, drawing, and exploring all over the world.

    • Renee M LaTulippe

      Thank you, Angie! Ah yes, the wanderlust is real! I hope you’ve had a chance to travel to France! (Oops, a rhyme…)

  2. I’m a wannabe dancer so this automatically appealed to me. I’ve heard of your language workshop, Renee. One of these days I may tackle rhyme and take your class! Best wishes for this clever book.

  3. Renée is a GENIUS . . . and we are so lucky to be able to learn from her. Thank you for this interview, Kim!!

    • Haha! Oh, Janet, I can always count on you to boost my self-esteem! But thank you, my friend. So much of what I’ve learned about free verse has come simply from reading your beautiful books.

    • Catherine Pledger

      Renee is a fantastic and encouraging teacher. I wish I had more time to devote to writing at the moment, but for now we are sharing the journey of learning to paint in watercolors ?

  4. Danielle Hammelef

    Thank you for the examples of revising your meter and removing the small words that aren’t necessary. I enjoyed your Italy story and love, love your view. I have a degree in engineering, but have since wished I’d allowed myself to pursue writing/journalism.

  5. Debra Kempf Shumaker

    I am so, so excited for this book. I loved meeting Renee through The Lyrical Language Lab so I can imagine this book is going to be beautiful.

    Is “Professional Student” a career? Because I could totally do that. I loved college so much and love taking adult education classes for fun every now and then. And now that my boys are in college/doing college tours, I picture myself in school all over again. . .

    • Thank you, Debra! My goodness, I think you were one of my first students way back in the day, so thank you retroactively for the vote of confidence! 😀

      Professional student would be the best kind of career, wouldn’t it? I would go back and get a whole bunch of degrees — as long as I didn’t have to write any papers! I’m kinda lazy that way. 😀

  6. Very excited for this book – ever since taking a PB writing class with Renee, goofing off and being silly like we were kids with Erik the Great! Long road, well-travelled brings all the more joy!!! It’s gorgeous too!

    • Oh, boy, Julie — I had to read your comment twice to jog my memory! That feels like a lifetime ago! 😀 It has been a looooong road indeed but ’tis the nature of the beast I guess.

      And ever since then you’ve been my favorite illustrator. You never fail to deliver a smile!

  7. The porch in Italy is perfectly nice, but it’s the wacky sheep mug that really completes the scene!

    • Tee-hee! Thanks for noticing, John! Lots of memories in that mug. My husband gave it to me in 2008 and it’s still going strong four houses and three kids later. When they were little, my twin boys would study it every morning, turning it this way and that (don’t spill my cappuccino!) to point out the white, orange, and blue sheep.

      Everything’s better with sheep!

  8. Renee’s Lyrical Language Lab is awesome! Congrats on your book, Renee! I can’t wait to read it. Great interview, Kim and Renee.

  9. My mother was a published poet who taught me rhyme and meter at an early age, so I began my writing career with poetry. Inside, I knew I wanted to write novels, needed to write them. I took dance lessons as a child and learned all those French terms for the steps, but I was too klutzy to be good at dance. If I had taken another path, it would likely involve math.
    Eager to read this book.

    • I just saw that two of your novels are set during two events that fascinate me — the Civil War and the Depression. Now I can’t wait to read them! Of all the poems I’ve written, my personal favorite is one that I wrote about the Dust Bowl. I’ve always wanted to write more about that as well, though it’s hard to compete with Karen Hesse’s OUT OF THE DUST!

  10. Yeah, Renée! (That rhymes!)

    Congratulations on such a darling book. You had me at the cover!

  11. Elspeth Lorraine

    I would have been a most proficient singer. Dancing and singing is pure joy, no matter if you trip and fall or soar!

    • Ha! I, too, would have been a most proficient singer. We could have taken our act on the road, Elspeth! But I agree — singing and dancing bring joy no matter your skill level. 🙂

  12. Kim and Renee, what a lovely interview and I love your boy-meets-girl story. Congratulations on the publication of Crab Dance. It looks beautiful. I love dance too, and when in grad-school took ballet and jazz with 12-yr-olds. Sometimes when people asked me what I did, I’d say, dance, and the conversation would open up than if I’d said, research biochemist. Lol. But it comes in handy when you don’t feel like talking 🙂

    I still regret not going to medical school, but I love this homey writing life and will have to check out your language lab because I struggle with meter (I sing too and often place emphasis on a different syllable than the one that’s marked). So fun to see your iteration with the dolphin stanza–it’s instructive.

    And your costumes!!! Iamb totally in awe!!!

    • Thank you so much, Vijaya! Iamb grateful for your comments! 😀 And I love that you told people you danced. The whole “what do you do” thing is so dull, isn’t it? We are all so much more than what we do for money. I hope you keep spicing up conversations that way! 🙂

  13. Loved getting to you better, Rene! Can’t wait for the Crab Ballet to begin! Best of luck to you! LM

  14. How fun! I always thought I’d enjoy being a marine biologist…but I get sea sick 🙂

    • Oh wow, Katie! I also thought about being a marine biologist … but I am afraid of fish! Hahaha. (Well, the ones that can hurt me, that is.) I do LOVE boating, however. Sorry you never found your sea legs! 🙂

  15. Wow, this is incredibly thought-provoking and helpful! I’ve turned into something of a late-blooming rhymer, and this post tickled many parts of my brain! Congrats on the new book, I look forward to reading it!!

  16. Great interview Kim and Renée! My copy is on order and should be in soon! I can’t wait!
    I used to be a substitute librarian in the elementary schools where I live. I loved it so much. I actually looked into going back to school to get a library science degree but it seemed like a very long haul. So I decided to pursue another dream, writing PB’s because, you know, that’s much easier and faster! (said no one ever) 🙂

    • Ha! Oh, Judy, Judy, Judy…I know what you mean about things looking like a long haul. I ever so briefly considered a PhD and then remembered I hate writing papers. 😀

      And here we are writing picture books! Our rise to fame is secure.

  17. Jilanne F Hoffmann

    Well, I started in the wrong career boat, engineering, just because I was a math whiz. Quickly flipped to tech/science/grant writer/annual report writer for nonprofits. Took me a l-o-n-g time to start telling my own stories. Too long. Can’t think of doing anything else now, because I have to make up for lost time. Congrats on this fabulous book, Renée! I’m in awe of your rhyming abilities. I’m also featuring this wee ballet for Perfect Picture Book Friday this week. Yay!

    • Thank you, Jilanne, also for featuring the Crabs & Co. on PPBF! Sounds like you also took a very roundabout path to picture books. I feel you with the making up for lost time, having come VERY late to this kidlit party myself. But we’re here now, bringing our years of other experience to the table, and that’s what matters!

    • Good news, Jilanne! You’re the winner of Renee’s book! I’ve sent you a Facebook message so we can get that book to you. Congratulations!

  18. What a great interview! I feel like an eavesdropper who wants to just pull up a chair and chime in! Renee! So fun to hear more of your backstory… not JEALOUS AT ALL of your office view!!!! As for me — I will say I missed the writing-boat-as-career way back when and now, in my 3rd Act I’M DOING IT!

    • Patricia! Yes! I also missed the writing boat! What were we thinking? I have had so many careers I’m not even sure what act I’m on now.

      You are a wonderful writer (I have personal knowledge of this!) and can’t wait to see YOUR books too!

  19. Elaine Kiely Kearns

    This was a great interview from two of my favorite authors! I absolutely cannot wait to get my hands on a copy of this fabulous book! Thanks, Kim!

  20. What a fun interview! And the book sounds and looks terrific. I also imagined that I would be great at ballet but wasn’t able to take lessons. Although I suspect that ballet may have been a lot harder than I imagined.
    I used to joke that I should have been an archaeologist but again, I suspect that the study would have worn me down before I got to any sites.

  21. Love Renee’s helpful YouTube videos about rhyme and lyrical language! I think if I weren’t a writer, I’d love to be a graphic designer or interior decorator.

    • Thank you, Susan! So glad you find the videos helpful. 🙂

      Those are two creative careers I could totally get behind! But I’ve always complained that I’m not very good at decorating. I had a college friend whose apartments always looked straight out of a magazine and I asked why mine looked crappy. He always said, “Groupings! It’s all in the groupings!” 😀 I’m still not good at groupings.

  22. Lyrical Language Lab is AMAZING and so is Renée! I can’t wait to read CRAB BALLET. If I had it to do all over again, I would definitely take dance classes~ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop, I love it all. Great interview, Kim!

  23. Great interview! I’ve been a nurse, librarian and writer but as a kid I wanted to be an archeologist or race car driver. Now my goal is to write a good rhyming PB!

    • Wow, you’ve had three great careers, Linda! Archeology seems to be popular as a “shoulda coulda” career. We have a lot of active sites in my area since it was the seat of the Etruscans, and I’m always amazed watching them work. Such patience and dedication! (Ah, the same two things we need for writing, right?)

  24. Congratulations on your new book, Renee! I loved taking the Lyrical Language Lab courses and always enjoy the Peek & Critique videos, too. As far as a career boat, I sometimes wish I’d jumped on this lovely kid-lit one a bit earlier, but I’m enjoying the journey I’m on now. Thank you for a lovely interview! I just requested my library purchase THE CRAB BALLET. Congrats again!

    • Aw, thank you so much for the library request, Sarah! So appreciated!

      And I know what you mean about getting on this kidlit boat earlier. I came to it quite late and can’t help wondering what might have been. Ah, well — we’re here now! 😀

  25. Congrats on your debut, Renee!
    Applause! BRAVO! The Crab Ballet!

  26. Congrats on your debut, Renee!
    (Applause!) BRAVO! The Crab Ballet!

  27. Congratulations, Renee! This looks wonderful—as the mother of a dancer, I can’t wait to hold this one!

    • Thank you so much, Quinette! My little girl started ballet this year and she’s so stinkin’ cute in her little dance skirt. I hope she sticks with it (and not just for the skirt)!

  28. Excellent interview. The book is soooo beautiful!

  29. Marilyn DeVries

    I am excited to read your new book. I would love to win a copy!

    I should have taken more rhyme and rhythm classes. It would have helped me now…pursuing a dream of writing children’s books with agriculture themes and true facts. But I still CAN! Next up for me is finding the right class.

    Thank you for teaching rhythm and rhyme. I need it.

  30. This IS the career I should have tried. I don’t regret my 25 years as an at-home mom, but I am thrilled to be a writer now.

  31. Thank you for a fun, interesting, and informational post. I would love to invite you to sit by the sea for a cup of tea with me for my brain is feeling a strain and drain from all this rhyming campaign! Please excuse me but I couldn’t resist a bit of humor!
    To the Queen of rhyme from a plain and tiny serf! Terri

  32. I look forward to reading THE CRAB BALLET, Renée.

    Your YouTube videos are informative and helpful.

  33. Janet Frenck Sheets

    I want to own THE CRAB BALLET! I also want an office just like Renee’s. (I’m glad that my first wish is attainable, anyway.) As for an alternative career, I would have enjoyed working at a historic site as a researcher and/or docent.

  34. Thank you so much, Janet! And ooh, yes, I love your alternate career choice. I am always amazed when I walk down a street and think something like “Julius Caesar passed by on this very same road!” Gives me the chills!

  35. I think I would have loved being an editor. But being a writer is still hitting the sweet spot. As long as my life is filled with kidlit, I know I’ll always be happy.

    • Ah, yes, I’ve been a freelance editor for many years, but not in a publishing house. That’s a whole other world, and one that I think would be gratifying too. But yay for writing!

  36. A fabulous interview with a fabulous person! Couldn’t be more thrilled for this book to come out! And as for boats… I already spent too much time in the wrong boat as a newspaper reporter. Having to run around NYC knocking on doors to interview strangers and having to run back to the newsroom to file a story in 2 hours is NOT an ideal job for someone who hates bothering people and LOVES tinkering with language until she finds the perfect word. As a young child, I had a notebook that I FILLED with poetry (both poems I’d read and loved and poems I’d written “in the style of”) so clearly all that love of language was there very early on. I just didn’t realize that I could make a career out of tinkering with words! I also feel like I could’ve been a good editor and should have gone to school for publishing rather than journalism. But thankfully, it only took 47 years, but I ended up where I was meant to be!

    • Soul sister! Starting at seven I, too, filled notebooks with my own poems and those I loved. I am impressed with your journalism experience — something I considered but don’t think I could ever have done. Bothering people? NOPE! Haha. I’m so glad you found your writing home — it’s never too late, right? <3

  37. Jennifer Phillips

    Hi Renee. I took your LLL self-paced course last year and found it so valuable. Congratulations on your new book. Can’t wait to read it! Another career? Hmmmmm. So many choices. I started out as a newspaper reporter back in the day before meandering into corporate comms and then process improvement. But librarian or anthropologist were always in the back of my mind!

  38. Omg, could you BE more talented, my super awesome friend (and CP)?! This book is so amazing, just like you! XOXO

  39. I have to be honest that seeing Renee use “then” and “now” meter fillers in early drafts gives me some peace and a reminder to not overly judge those early drafts, just revise with grace.

  40. Outstanding glimpse into revision process from the Queen of Meter Maids, the Empress of iambic pentameter, and the Ruler of rhyme and rhythm – Renee! Can’t wait to get my copy of CRAB BALLET

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