Writing a Single Story Using a Variety of Poetry Styles by Kathleen Long Bostrom

It is my pleasure to welcome multi-published, award-winning children’s book author and poet extraordinaire Kathleen Long Bostrom back to Frog on a Blog. I featured Kathleen in the summer of 2020 when her board book Will You Be Friends with Me? came out. She spoke about the connection between writer and illustrator and trusting the publisher and illustrator to help bring your story to life. To read that post, please click HERE.

Today, Kathleen’s here to share her latest picture book Since the Baby Came: A Sibling’s Learning-to-Love Story in 16 Poems and talk a bit about her process of writing a book in different poetic forms. This book officially released this week from WaterBrook and features adorable, playful, and detailed illustrations by Janet Samuel. It’s perfect for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and baby showers or simply to help a child navigate welcoming a new sibling into the family. It’s also a great choice for children and adults to learn about different poetry styles, including the very tricky Villanelle, of which Kathleen gives an example below. Let’s hear from Kathleen!

Dr. Seuss taught me how to read. Not literally, of course (I read once that he didn’t particularly like children!) but through his marvelous books. The Cat in the Hat was my favorite. Through these playful, rhyming stories I not only learned to read but also fell in love with poetry.

When I began to write books for children, I felt drawn to writing in rhyme. I kept hearing that editors did not want to look at manuscripts in rhyme. Why not, I wondered? Don’t most children love rhyming picture books? As I began attending writer’s conferences, I learned the reason. Time and again, editors declared, “We get so many poorly rhymed manuscripts, we don’t even want to see them anymore.”

If I was going to write in rhyme, I had to do it well. No forced rhymes, no using stanzas that rhyme by twisting a sentence into something a person would never say. I worked hard at it, yet it never felt like work. I loved it! When I began to get books accepted for publication, many of them were written in rhyme.

After twenty-five years of publishing books, I am still learning, still loving the process of writing in poetry.  

Around the time I retired from serving as a pastor and turned to writing full-time, my best friend and I attended a children’s writing conference. She was then working as an editor in educational publishing. During lunch, I asked, “What are the areas in early education where more good books are needed?” Without hesitation, she replied, “Poetry.”

“Aha!” I thought. “I can do that!”

But what would make a story told in poetry unique? I researched the books currently on the market and looked for the gaps.

Then it hit me: write a single story in verse, but not limited to the rhyming couplets that I and most other authors used. Could I write a single story using a variety of styles of poetry? I read books that described different poetic forms. Was I surprised! I knew about haiku, limericks, sonnets. But Villanelle? Cinquain? Triolet? Fascinating!

I had to tell a story with all the necessary components: beginning, middle, end, including an arc with conflict and resolution. I wanted to write a story that would be pertinent to the lives of young children. I wanted to tell a story that would engage young readers, and in the playfulness of poetry, whether they were old enough to learn the specifics of the forms or not.

I pondered many potential topics but landed on the story of a young child learning about the imminent arrival of a new baby who must then face the reality of this huge change. I wanted to explore all the possible emotions—excitement, confusion, frustration, and ultimately joy—thus affirming that all emotions are part of the journey, to be welcomed and honored.

Once I carved out an idea for the full story, I needed to figure out which poem forms to use for each component. This took months! Each of the sixteen poems had to work within the story arc, but also to be a complete and independently executed poem.

Take the Villanelle: nineteen lines of poetry comprised of five tercets (three-line stanza) and one quatrain (four-line stanza). The first and third lines of the first stanza repeat alternately in the following stanzas. And the two lines of the refrain also form the final couplet (two lines) in the ending quatrain!

Here’s how it looks in my poem, “When Will This Baby Go Away?”

When will this baby go away?

He’s all mixed up with day and night.

Don’t tell me that he’s here to stay.


He cannot even talk or play.

Those dirty diapers are a fright!

When will this baby go away?


He sleeps and eats and cries all day.

Such bad behavior isn’t right.

Don’t tell me that he’s here to stay.


Please send him back. I’ll even pay!

I took his hand—he took a bite!

When will this baby go away?


Oh, why do babies act this way?

That belly button! What a sight!

Don’t tell me that he’s here to stay.


Will he become more fun someday?

I can’t imagine that he might.

When will this baby go away?

Don’t tell me that he’s here to stay.

This one poem took months. I worked on the book for two years. What fun I had! On my writing days, I could hardly wait to get up and get started. The hours flew by. Hours and hours and hours, rewrite after rewrite.

I could go on and on about all the forms, but I’d end up writing a book about writing a book! Instead, read the book first, and simply enjoy the story (and the fabulous illustrations by Janet Samuel). Then read the descriptions of the poem forms at the back. Which ones catch your fancy?

Try writing your own. Start with a limerick, or haiku (senryu), or a simple, rhyming couplet. Have fun with it! Let the words dance and sing on the page.

Maybe even try your hand at a Villanelle? You can do it!

I’d love to read your poetry. Thank you for reading mine.

Kathleen Long Bostrom is an award-winning author of over fifty books for children. Her books are published in over twenty languages. She is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA) who now writes full time. As a middle child, Kathy was both the new baby and the older sister who later became a mother of three herself. She knows whereof she rhymes!

For more information, please visit kathleenlongbostrom.com.