The Great Dictionary Caper. Oops!
A mini-jumble of just two adjacent letters went unnoticed by me, by the editors, assistant editors, and proofreaders at Simon and Schuster, and by the folks who gave the book starred reviews at Kirkus, Publishers’ Weekly, and Booklist.
It wasn’t until librarians began reading the book that the error was found (it’s since been corrected in later printings). Did those of us who missed it simply get enough information from the other letters to ignore the misspelling, Ryhming? Perhaps. But the font was large, which should have made the mistake easier to spot, and on top of that, it came right after a double-page spread of anagrams, so we should have been on the lookout for switched letters. I'm guessing that these particular letters in this particular word created a trompe l'oeil, a trick of perception.
Next time, I will pay etxra attention to proofreading the words in a book's art.
This is the story Dr. Seuss told of how he began to write in rhyme:
In the summer of 1936, he and his wife Helen traveled from Europe to New York aboard an ocean liner, the Kungsholm. Ted was 32 years old, and already well-known as a magazine cartoonist and advertising artist. As they sailed homeward, he began writing down ideas for his first children’s book.
The ship’s engine provided a noisy background beat,
da-da-DA-da-da-DA, da-da-DA, da-da-DA
To the tempo of the engine, Ted recited a poem that he knew by heart,
“’Twas the Night Before Christmas, and all through the house . . . .”
Then he began to compose his new children’s story to that same rhythm. The story became the picture book, And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street. He would use this same basic rhythm and rhyme scheme, officially known as anapestic tetrameter, for nearly all his large format picture books for children. Many of the beginning readers use simpler rhythms. Can you match Green Eggs and Ham to its poetic meter?
Some rhymes for 'dictionary' suggested by an online rhyming dictionary. Hmmm.
Almost anyone who writes in rhyme uses a rhyming dictionary—at least some of the time. However, the best rhymes usually come from the deep reaches of a poet’s memory and unconscious. Personally, I suspect that using a rhyming dictionary could keep me from discovering a great rhyme, like Dr. Seuss’s pairing of “Apartment 12-J” with “hidden away” in Horton Hears a Who. If I’d been using a rhyming dictionary when I began writing Antarctic Antics: A Book of Penguin Poems, I might have given up when I discovered that there is no rhyme for penguin.
Words that rhyme in English can have vastly different spellings, and words that have similar spellings can have different pronunciations. This makes using a rhyming dictionary difficult. My husband owned a copy of The Poet's Manual and Rhyming Dictionary when I met him, and I turned to it when I began writing poetry for children. The book uses phonetic spelling to distinguish between vowel sounds. Nothing breaks the spell of writing poetry more quickly than having to learn phonetic spelling.
My favorite rhyming dictionary (a print dictionary, though sadly out-of-print) is Sue Young’s Scholastic Rhyming Dictionary. It contains only words I would really use, and they are given in vertical lists with lots of white space around them (and some cartoon illustrations besides). There is an index, but no phonetic spelling is required.
Online rhyming dictionaries eliminate the need to consult an index or learn a phonetic spelling system. There are some great online rhyming dictionaries, and some not-so-great ones (some appear to have been written by robots). I’ve watched a couple change and get worse.
Online rhyming dictionaries are used mostly by songwriters, who count on singers to shape the sounds of their words in performance. Songs can contain “near rhymes” or “slant rhymes.” A poem on the page is held to a higher standard. Does bill rhyme with real? Does room rhyme with tune? Not in a children’s picture book.
My current favorite online rhyming dictionary is Rhymezone. On Rhymezone, the most commonly-used words are highlighted in dark blue. This helps me skip past unlikely and unlovely candidates. As a bonus. Rhymezone offers many examples of how a particular word has been rhymed in classic poems, and in popular songs, from Broadway musicals, to jazz, to country and western, to rap. I love this feature because it puts the rhymes in a creative context.
But even Rhymezone suggests far too many words that just don’t rhyme—see Rhymezone's partial list of rhymes above for the word “dictionary.”
I am an author and folklorist based in Portland, Oregon.
The Great Dictionary Caper, illustrated by Eric Comstock (Paula Wiseman Books, Simon & Schuster, 2018)
**Starred reviews from Publishers' Weekly, Kirkus, and Booklist.
Wild About Books, illustrated by Marc Brown. (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2004). New York Times Bestseller, ALA Notable Book, and winner of the E.B. White Read-Aloud Award.
Imagine That! How Dr. Seuss Wrote 'The Cat in the Hat"
(Random House, 2017). Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes.
*Starred reviews from Publishers' Weekly and Kirkus.