Cheerful Chick: Learning from a Mentor Text

Martha Brockenbrough’s CHEERFUL CHICK, illustrated by Brian Won, is a celebration of both cheerleading and determination. It’s a great mentor text for us to study as we take a look at the way the topic and theme of a book guide decisions about rhyme and meter.
Remember the cheers you heard at basketball and football games? There’s probably one catchy cheer that comes to mind right away. For me, it’s this one:
We got spirit, yes we do!
We got spirit, how ‘bout you?
It has a peppy meter to go along with the rhyme.
DAH da DAH da DAH da DAH!
DAH da DAH da. DAH da DAH?
Martha kept that element of cheerleading in mind when she chose her rhyme scheme and meter for CHEERFUL CHICK. It’s written in iambic tetrameter, so each line is made up of four iambs. In other words, it goes like this:
da DAH da DAH da DAH da DAH….
Interestingly enough, Martha’s first draft of this book wasn’t written in rhyme. As an experienced writer, she knew about all the pitfalls of writing in rhyme and opted to try it in prose instead. But when she sent the manuscript to her editor, Arthur Levine, he suggested that this is a story that might actually work better with the added challenge of rhyme.
“Since I already had the character and story, though, the challenge was to come up with a rhythm and rhyme scheme that echoed the cheerleading protagonist’s nature,” Martha wrote in an April tweet thread.
She came up with a plan to give iambic tetrameter a try. When I look at how this book turned out, I can only imagine how much fine-tuning and revision went into making this work. But the end result is a book that captures the main character’s nature and rhymes without feeling forced or clunky. It reads like a cheer, which is perfect.
Cheerful chick worked day and night
Until at last her moves felt right.
And then she hatched her lifelong dream
To build a barnyard cheering team.
She got her muscles good and warm
And did her moves with perfect form:
Side splits, wing stands, super punches –
Chicken shook her feathers bunches!
That last line was fun, wasn’t it? When we were looking at Hena’s GOLDEN DOMES AND SILVER LANTERNS yesterday, we talked about the care she took to make sure the rhymes felt natural and didn’t call attention to themselves, because that’s a gentle, lyrical story about colors. CHEERFUL CHICK has a more playful, humorous tone, so it’s fine (and fun!) if some of the rhymes stand out a bit more:
Ms. Cow knows all the wildest moves.
Just watch her stand on two front hooves!
Ms. Cow just stood and blinked and chewed.
And said, “I’m so not in the moooood.”
Even when the rhymes are more playful, the rhythm stays consistent, and that’s important for a read-aloud. Martha’s keen ear for meter comes from her college study of ancient Greek poems and dramas.
“It helped me see much better what Shakespeare is doing. Which leads me to my second point. Rhythmic writing does not have to rhyme. It will be lyrical and delightful because of the rhythm. See Shakespeare’s plays for this,” Martha wrote. “And there are lots of ways you can play with rhythm. With a forthcoming picture book, THIS OLD DOG, also edited by Arthur & illustrated by Gabriel Alborozo, I decided that every word the dog narrator thinks has one syllable. For me, this captures the voice of a dog. A good dog who likes long walks in the grass. Are you stuck with a picture book? Think about the rhythm of the language, and choose one in harmony with your character.”
On that note…here’s your assignment. We’re going to play around with some different voices today. Choose a character — a young person, a big old tortoise, a rowdy squirrel…whatever you want — and try writing a few lines in that character’s voice. It can be about anything – what the character loves, their plans for the day, their dreams for the future. But give some real thought to how the rhythm and word choice will reflect the character. When you’ve written a few lines, switch gears and write about the same topic but in a different character’s voice. How does that change how you think about meter and rhyme?

10 Replies on “Cheerful Chick: Learning from a Mentor Text

  1. My friend and I were on a hike today, and we encountered a rattle snake. Funny, because I wrote about a snake yesterday. Anyway, I had read the post before I left and asked her to think of a fun animal. We came up with Moody Muskrat. I am on the west coast, wanted to post sooner. Here is my attempt. The second to the last line has too many syllables, but I liked the word scampered. I will have to keep working on it.

    Moody muskrat slept snug in his bed.
    It’s time for school, his mother said.

    Moody muskrat, blanket in tow
    Please momma, I don’t want to go.

    But wise old owl is your teacher
    Eat your breakfast and brush your fur

    But I don’t like reading out loud
    Rather be swimming, look at clouds.

    Momma packed his lunch, out he went,
    Long tail barely swishing, head bent.

    Chirpy chipmunk scampered into a run
    C’mon friend, school can be fun.

  2. Just noticed a couple of lines not parallel. Here is a more correct way for those lines:

    But I don’t like reading out loud
    Rather swim and look at the clouds.

  3. I don’t have anything ready to share yet, but I just wanted to say how much I appreciate all that I am learning this week about rhyming. There are so many things to consider that I had not thought about!

    1. Busy morning for me today, and since morning caffeine is the most creative Maureen today I’m just enjoying posts as well.

  4. This needs an ending, but here’s my first attempt.

    Hummingbird said, “Let’s go. Let’s go!”
    Slug replied, “ I. Don’t. Think. So.”
    Hummingbird quipped, “Theressomuchtosee.”
    And slug answered slowly, “ I’m good. Let. Me. Be.”
    “But Slug you miss all the good stuff.”
    Slug just yawned, “I’ve seen enough.
    Don’t worry friend, I have a view. It’s just slower and lower then what you do.”

  5. I’m teaching summer school right now. I found myself writing about a boy who always seems to get lost coming back from the bathroom into the classroom (though it’s a direct route and we’ve finished 8 days of summer school). He always seems to get a bit distracted by our turtle garden, visible from large windows along the hall.
    It doesn’t rhyme, but this is what I came up with in each character’s voice. I’m still working…

    Is this the way? They’re staring.
    I don’t think so. I should move.
    Am I lost? They’re still staring.
    I’ll go this way. I should move.
    Which way now? A bug! (Snap!)
    I see the turtles. A worm! (Munch!)
    Should I go in? They’re coming in.
    I want to touch it. I’m going to move.

    1. Didn’t exactly post the way I typed. There should be space between the first sentence and the second on each line, to separate each speaker. Boy vs. Turtle


  6. I’m behind. But I have been thinking about rhyme like crazy. It’s really not easy! I am excited to learn about the differences in rhymes and the meters. Still trying to revise my grateful piece!

  7. I have loved all of the posts I’ve had a chance to read. I am also behind due to a vacation, and now an injury. I have saved lessons and am slowly trying them out. I hope to do more this weekend. Here is a try (very raw and not too good). This actually happened a few nights ago. I am missing a line. Might need to switch around words or think of something that rhymes with “blood”. Everything I tried seemed forced ( a big no-no).

    Raccoons ramble
    in the night.
    Out my window,
    in my sight.

    Screeching, clawing,
    Fight begins.
    Who will triumph?
    Who will win?

    Silence finally,
    Night is done.
    Morning follows
    Bright with sun.

    I step outside
    On my path
    Are drops of blood.

  8. I wrote this from the perspective of my dog, who is an eternal optimist that the cat will one day want to play with her…

    I heard the bell!
    Where is that cat?!?!

    I’m gonna find out
    Where he’s at.

    Run up the stairs.
    Oh my gosh he’s here!

    Stand verrrry still
    But. He. Is. So. Near.

    Stare and stare,
    Just don’t move.

    Tail – I mean it…
    Just don’t move!

    Ack! He sees me.
    He’s wagging his tail!!!

    Time to play??
    Oh shoot. Epic Fail.