Kid's Stuff -- Poems & Nursery Rhymes
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"Poetry For Young People"
Written by William Blake
Edited by John Maynard
Illustrated by Alessandra Cimattoribus
(Sterling, 2006)

A beautifully illustrated collection of poems by English poet and mystic William Blake... The subject matter (and the didactic tone) may seem remote to many modern readers, and secular-minded parents may wish to steer clear of the constant talk of angels, creators and shepherds, but for those wishing to immerse their children into the English canon, it would be hard to imagine a better introduction to Blake's work than this. The soft-textured artwork recalls Blake's own fantastical visual style, with its wild celebration of nature, and perfectly compliments the text. Although some of the loftier verses may be hard to crack, many poems are easily understood, including the well-known "The Tyger" ("Tyger, tyger, burning bright...") and "The Nurse." Part of an excellent series of introductory poetry sets. (B+)

"When We Were Very Young"
Written by A. A. Milne
Illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard
(Dutton, 1924)

Before the world was treated to the release of the first Winnie The Pooh book, author A. A. Milne published this delightful book of poems. It is of a piece with the Pooh stories, since it is also illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard, and makes passing reference to young Christopher Robin. Most importantly, it immerses us in Milne's magical world, his child's-eye view of things great and small, and prepares us for the wonders of the Hundred Acre Wood. Not all of the poems are equally enchanting -- some are too rooted in the experience of children in Edwardian and inter-war England -- but the best poems are gems. Our favorites include "The King's Breakfast," "Buckingham Palace," "Puppy And I," "Rice Pudding" and, of course, "Disobedience" and "Halfway Down." If your family enjoys the wordplay of the Pooh books, these poems are also a must. (A+)

"Now We Are Six"
Written by A. A. Milne
Illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard
(Dutton, 1927)

Although this volume takes second place to the first, it still has simple gems such as "Solitude," "Sneezles," "Waiting At The Window" and "Forgiven." Fans of Winnie-Ther-Pooh will be delighted to see the Bear make several appearances here: "Us Two" and "The Friend" reveal what Pooh and Christopher Robin do when they are off the clock, while "Furry Bear" shows Pooh on a trip to the zoo. But the book is dominated by longer, more complex poems such as "King Hillary And The Beggarman" and "The Knight Whose Armour Didn't Squeak," that, while crediting us with a longer attention span, are a little too British and do tend to go on a bit. Also, in poems such as "Explained," religion comes to the fore, and perhaps not every parent will want to broach theology through kid's literature. But the poems that magical are magical, and as a companion to Milne's other books, this is also a delight. (A)

"Ride a Purple Pelican"
Written by Jack Prelutsky
Illustrated by Garth Williams
(Harper, 1986)

For those who appreciate silliness, whimsey, and the supple flow of language used well, this book is an absolute delight. While many children's book authors try using rhyme in their works, few do it with the gracefulness and sense of sheer fun that poet Jack Prelutsky brings to the form. Add to his words the colorful, kooky draftsmanship of artist Garth Williams, and you've got an instant classic. These ditties combine elegant feel of A. A. Milne's poems with the giddy abandon of good, old-fashioned limericks. Most of all, they are fun to read, and equally fun to listen to... And don't be surprised if you and your kids wind up memorizing a few of them, to recite for years to come. Highly recommended! (A+)

"Beneath A Blue Umbrella"
Written by Jack Prelutsky
Illustrated by Garth Williams
(Greenwillow, 1990)

This follows in the path of the earlier Prelutsky-Williams collaboration, Ride A Purple Pelican, although for some reason it's slightly less magical. The rhymes are trickier and a little more tounge-twisterish, and William's artwork doesn't quite sparkle as much as in the first volume. But if you love words and wordplay (and funny-sounding geographical destinations!) then this book will delight you as well. Another Prelutsky winner. (B+)

Jack Prelutsky -- see author profile

"A Child's Garden Of Verses"
Written by Robert Lewis Stevenson
Illustrated by Barbara McClintock
(Harper Collins, 2007)


"Over The Moon" A Treasury Of Nursery Rhymes"
Adapted by Charlotte Voake
Illustrated by Charlotte Voake
(Clarkson A. Potter, 1985)

A nice, hefty collection of nursery rhymes, with pictures from one of my favorite illustrators. Lots of obscure entries, and plenty of classics as well. Voake tends to favor toned-down versions of a few of these ditties, but there are also plenty of dark, disturbing poems as well. As with many childrens' books, a bit of fancy footwork and skillful editing on the sly will work wonders as you read this with your child. Nice, compelling edition -- long out of print, but worth tracking down. (B+)

"Read-Aloud Rhymes For The Very Young"
Selected by Jack Prelutsky
Illustrated by Marc Brown
(Random House/Alfred A. Knopf, 1986)

A fine anthology of poems for children, selected by Jack Prelutsky, with artwork by Marc Brown (creator of the "Arthur" PBS series) The poems are organized, informally, around different themes -- a page or two of poems about rainy weather, or cats, or insects, or sleeping, or frogs, or whatever. Brown's images and the fluid layout are just wonderful, and perfectly compliment the fanciful doggerel. As with many of these poetry collections, there are some recurrent themes that I find less appealing than others -- injuries, eating sweets, hating to do things like take baths or go to sleep -- but these are definitely in the minority and on balance this is a lovely book, packed with wordplay that will delight young and old alike, and either encourage or rekindle imaginative thinking. Highly recommended! (B+)

"For Laughing Out Loud: Poems To Tickle Your Funnybone"
Selected by Jack Prelutsky
Illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
(Random House/Alfred A. Knopf, 1991)

Another fine poetry anthology for kids, curated by Jack Prelutsky with his usual blend of humor, impishness and whimsy. Although most of his books are witty and wacky, the emphasis here is explicitly on being funny and, admittedly, what an overprotective, over-the-hill daddy (me) and what a six-year-old find funny might vary a little bit. So, while I'm not fond of the poems where people get flattened by steamrollers, or wild cats eat nice little girls, or kids eat too many sweets (or want to eat too many sweets), or kids play with yucky stuff, I concede that many kids and other parents might like 'em a lot. Also, the stuff I find objectionable is only part of what's here -- I just try and skip the few poems I don't like and revel in the ones I do. On balance, this one seems more geared towards older kids, and has more creepy-crawly-scary stuff, but also some ditties that little kids might like as well. (B)

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