For the third week of Booktober, I have a compiled a list of our Top 7 books in rhyme, or poetry books. This was always going to be the hardest one for me to narrow down. I love poetry and I think rhyming picture books are just the greatest.
I agonised over what would make the final cut. It’s amazing how many great poems there are to read to kids. Early childhood is probably the time in most people’s lives when they are exposed to the most poetry. From songs and nursery rhymes, to the multitude of amazing books in rhyme. There are definitely some masterpieces that have been unfairly missed from this too short list.
But, in the end, I’m pretty happy with this list because it represents the books that are most special to us.
1. The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear and Jan Brett
Anyone who regularly reads this blog (hi mum!) could probably have guessed this one was going to make the list. The Owl and the Pussycat was my favourite poem as a child and is my favourite to read (or sing) to my children. Pickles already knows it pretty much by heart.
The lyrical quality of Edward Lear’s writing is hypnotic. You can get lost in his words. And what wonderful words they are. Some of them are completely made up but they all fit together perfectly.
The story itself is great too. A sweet tale of love between an owl and a pussycat.
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.
The board book version that we have is illustrated by Jan Brett. The illustrations are really magical. You see the owl and the pussycat adrift on their boat on top of the water. You also see all of the sea life under the water.
Pickles can’t get enough of the pictures. He particularly likes the fact that the owl and the pussycat have a fish in a bowl on their boat who escapes right at the end to join her love in the ocean. He loves to find her on each page.
The pictures tell their own separate but related story, which is always a wonderful thing in picture books as it opens up ongoing exploration and discussion of the book.
2. Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
To be honest, this whole list could have been all Julia Donaldson books. Her books are all wonderful. But, oh, Room on the Room! Could this be the perfect picture book?
The book tells the story of a witch and her cat. They are quite content, just the two of them, riding around on their broom. One stormy day, the wind blows off the witch’s hat and so begins a series of events that sees the pair meet some new friends and face one terrifying foe.
I love this story because the witch is always happy to make room for new friends. Sometimes if I see Pickles determinedly heading outside on an adventure into the backyard, I will ask him: “Is there room on the broom for a mummy like me.” Invariably he will look delighted and shout “Yes!” And so off we’ll go together.
This was the first story he knew well enough to be able to talk about in detail. It is a great one for testing memory because I can ask him who found the witch’s hat, or wand, or bow. I am always surprised at how well he can remember.
Donaldson’s rhymes are always terrific. This is so much fun to read aloud. Scheffler’s pictures, too, are delightful. He is really able to bring the characters to life.
Just as with another one of Donaldson and Scheffler’s classics, The Gruffalo, this book also has an animated version which to date is the only “movie” that Pickles has watched all the way through. He may not have seen many but he’s seen this one dozens of times. It’s fabulous.
3. Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
I have had the rhyme from this book stuck in my head since primary school. I kid you not.
That is a lot of years; one severe case of ear worm.
I’ll be just be cooking a meal when suddenly I’ll have the urge to say: “Cinderella on the stairs I spy the three bears.” Or Pords will be crying and I’ll be thinking: “Baby Bunting fast asleep I spy Bo-Peep.” Or I’ll be asked the key question at a really important job interview and all I’ll be able to think is: “Wicked witch over the wood I spy Robin Hood.”
I really don’t know why this has stuck in my head the way it has for so many years, except for the fact that it’s so simple yet effective, and I read it over and over as a child. Now, as I read it over and over to my own children and I don’t even have to look at the words. I know the whole thing by heart.
The words aren’t even the best part of this book though. There is a built in game of I Spy in the pictures. So kids need to try and find the character to be spied in each picture. For older children this is a snap, but for toddlers, especially those who haven’t read it fifty times already, it can be challenging and fun.
The use of well known nursery rhyme and fairy tale characters makes it even more amusing for children. Pickles is going through a bit of a three bears craze a the moment so he especially likes the pages that feature them. These inclusions prompt further discussions about other books and stories that we’ve shared and make the book even more interactive and engaging.
This book has stood the test of time and it’s easy to see why. A definite must for sharing with toddlers.
4. The Very Cranky Bear by Nick Bland
Without fail, the ending of this book makes me smile every single time.
Four animal friends want to take shelter from a rainy day inside a snug cave. Unfortunately, a very cranky bear has already had the same idea. Three of the friends believe they have the solution by giving the bear the attributes of themselves of which they are most proud. They all think of the fourth friend, the sheep, as rather plain. However, in the end it is the sheep that has the answer when she makes a pillow for the bear from her wool.
“Well, thank you very much,” said Bear and soon he fell asleep. Maybe he was dreaming of a plain, but thoughtful sheep.
See, I’m smiling again. Well, let’s face it, if you can see me that’s a wee bit creepy. Hopefully you can’t in fact see me. Trust me, there’s a smile.
The book is a sheer pleasure. The pictures are vibrant and appealing. The clever use of rhyme makes it easy and enjoyable to read. It’s fun to do voices for all the different animals. There is everything to like about this book. Even better is that the cranky bear also features in other books. He’s itchy, hungry, noisy, and brave. He’s always a favourite in our house.
5. I Wish That I Had Duck Feet by Theo LeSieg
My mum, who spent a long career working with young children, reported this as a favourite with pre-schoolers. She said that in one particular child care centre that she worked at, as soon as the children saw her they would run over and demand it be read. Part of that, no doubt, was that she has an exceptionally marvellous voice for reading children’s books aloud. The other part is the magic of Seuss (writing here as Theo LeSieg). It seems that even as he becomes dated he is timeless.
One of the magical things about Seuss books is their ability to get stuck in your head, much as a song might. When my toddler is being fussy about eating I often find myself thinking (and sometimes saying!) “Hay, just hay two times a day is all [you’ll] get to eat!” Such is the fabulous cadence of Seuss.
Particularly loveable about this book is that it follows the imaginings of a young child. The ideas might be silly, but the child is nothing but earnest. Earnest nonsense is nothing if not delightful. You can talk to your own children about what it might be like to have duck feet, or a long nose, or tail, or deer horns, or a whale spout on their head. Your children might imagine other additions that would be fun to have.
It is a perfect book for reading aloud and for sharing over and over again.
6. Noni the Pony Goes to the Beach by Alison Lester
My husband and I once spent a great weekend away with dear friends of ours at Waratah Bay, which happens to be the home of Noni the Pony. So we feel a special connection with her.
This book shows the pure joy of a day spent at the beach with friends. In fact, often after reading it Pickles will say: “Go beach now” and that’s exactly how I feel too. The happiness of the characters leaps off the page through the bouncing rhyme and the gorgeous pictures, and just makes me want to go beach now.
Because we love to spend time at the beach, this book is a really good one for us in terms of incorporating connections to things that we have done. As I often stress, reading the actual text in the book is only part of reading with your children. Talking about the story, the characters, and the pictures is also key in terms of helping with your child’s language and other social development. Choosing books that things that your child loves can be useful in promoting this contextual discussion.
There are many things to love about this book. I love the special friendship between the pony, the cat, and the dog. I also love that the cows are referred to as “the ladies next door.” The whole thing is really adorable. Perfect for sharing.
7. Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot and Axel Scheffler
This is a collection of poems rather than one story like the others on this list, but it is one of our favourites. Before Cats The Musical there were the T.S. Eliot poems in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. It has such wonderful characters: Skimbleshanks, Macavity, Mr Mistoffelees, and all the others.
This is a great book to have if you want to introduce your children to poetry at a young age. You can pick it up and just read one of the poems at a time, or as many as you like. I used to read them all the time to my babies as newborns.
Each of the poems tells a fantastic story. Some funny, some poignant, all a joy to read. They are especially great if you love cats or have cats as pets.
I think at its heart, this book is also about the magic of things. Children love elves and fairies and so on, but they also love to consider the lives of animals. It is not such a leap for them to imagine that the cat that spends all day asleep on the floor might at night have some wildly adventurous life.
Our copy of the book is illustrated by Axel Scheffler, who has already appeared in this list for his work on Room on the Broom. His quirky and amusing pictures are a perfect pairing for these poems.
So there’s my list. What others would you add?