Word Play and Rhyme Work Together in “Mama Built a Little Nest”

Title:  Mama Built a Little Nest

Author:  Jennifer Ward

Illustrator:  Steve Jenkins

Publisher:  Beach Lane Books

Year:  2014

Word Count:  300 (estimate)




It’s with mixed feelings that I arrive at the last day of the 14:14 Blogging Challenge. It’s certainly been a challenge for me since about the same time I started it, my son became much more mobile with his crawling — making it that much more difficult for me to find time to sit and write instead of chasing him around and trying to keep him out of the dog food bowl! Despite these obstacle, I’ve so enjoyed studying picture books and being introduced to other wonderful books that I’d never even have heard of if it weren’t for the other committed bloggers who also undertook the challenge. I only wish I’d had more time to comment on their blog posts!

Knowing that this was my last post for the challenge made it very difficult to choose a book. There were so many great options, but I decided to go with Mama Built a Little Nest because it’s a non-fiction rhyming book — something I haven’t seen too often. I chose it for rhyme, but the fantastic word play is really what elevates the rhyme.

In children’s publishing circles, you often hear that agents and editors aren’t interested in simple end-rhymes. However, I think that’s not really the case. I see a lot of simple end-rhymes in newly published books. However, after looking at this book as well as God Bless You and Good Night (which I reviewed earlier in the challenge), I’m wondering if agents/editors are willing to overlook simple end-rhyme when it’s skillfully combined with clever word play.

Mama Built a Little Nest is about different kinds of birds and the variety of nests that they build. It opens with the tree-hole nests built by woodpeckers.

Mama built a little nest

inside a sturdy trunk.

She used her beak to tap-tap-tap

the perfect place to bunk.

Notice the onomatopoeia with the “tap-tap-tap” and the alliteration of “perfect place.” These take a simple rhyming couplet and add interest to it.

The spread about wrens reads like this:

Daddy built a little nest.

And then he built another.

And another. And another —

hoping to impress my mother.

First, I love that it’s Daddy building the nests. The fact that he builds these nests in a cactus is all the more impressive. Now to look at the rhyme. Not only do the couplets rhyme, but there is some nice repetition, assonance and near rhyme. Notice how “nest” and “impress” sound quite nice together.

The flamingo’s nest is described like this:

Mama built a little next

entirely out of mud.

No feathery down, no soft green plants,

just fuddy, muddy crud.

I love that last line with its internal rhyme and assonance! I mean, how fun is it to say “fuddy, muddy crud?”

Throughout the book, the rhyming couplets are enhanced by the use of onomatopoeia, alliteration, assonance, and consonance. As you read, it’s fun to count all the examples of word play and see how Jennifer Ward weaves them together with her rhyme. It seems so effortless, but I’m sure it required a lot of attention.

I love writing in rhyme, and this book is a great example of how word play can really take your rhyme to the next level. It also inspires me to think of what other non-fiction topics might be well-served by a rhyming text.

What other non-fiction rhyming books can you think of?

9 Responses to “Word Play and Rhyme Work Together in “Mama Built a Little Nest””

  1. Katie @ The Logonauts

    This sounds very cute! There seems to be a trend towards poetry books with nonfiction content, like Winter Bees and Dear Wandering Wildebeest, where individual poems combine with facts.

  2. Katie @ The Logonauts

    So, this is just to say, but I would strongly suggest that you change the light, light gray text choice for writing in your comment box here. It is nearly impossible to read, making it hard to write a comment, and likely stopping people who might have left you comments. Just a friendly suggestion.

  3. Damon Dean

    Yes! Love this book, and great example of word play. I love Steve Jenkins illustrations. Thanks for this post, and all your reviews Lindsay. Never would have guessed you were chasing a rugrat all this time! 🙂

  4. Linda E.H.

    I haven’t read this book but just from reading your review I can say I love it. I really hope I can find this one so I can read all of it. I love birds. I love word play. I love rhyme. THIS sounds like the perfect non-fic book. Learning while having fun.

  5. Christie Wright Wild

    What a great lesson on both rhyme and word play. Love it! I also noticed the “beak/bunk” word play in the first example you shared. By the way, you won one of the prizes!


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