All I read is the rhythm divine

I wish I had some kind of algorithm for calculating the number of books I’ve read out loud to my kids in the last 10 years. (And let’s time out for a second and recognize the staggering, unbelievable fact that in two months I will have been a mom for ONE DECADE, holy cow. OK, time in.) I don’t even have a ballpark number, but I know it’s a lot of books. I remember reading to Noah in utero (oh, adorable pre-kid me) and then later to weeks-old lump of Noah, who could barely see 6 inches from his face, much less the book I was enthusiastically flipping through in front of him as he waved his little baby arms uncontrollably.

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I am a children’s book enthusiast, to be sure. OK, I’m also a little bit of a children’s book snob, if we’re being honest here. There are books I don’t care for that are deeply loved by many (Love You Forever is one of them—I KNOW, I’M A MONSTER) and there are some that I’m gaga over that other people probably feel deeply meh about. Some children’s books just endear themselves to me, and others fall flat. And others (oh so many others) are just plain terrible, no matter how you slice it.

Tellingly, there is a high correlation between the books I find endearing and the books my kids adore. Do I think Fancy Nancy is a masterpiece of child literature, to be lauded through the ages? No, no I do not. But the fact that Max requests Noah read it to him on a nightly basis, and does so in some weird accent he decided was appropriate for saying Fancy Nancy (“Fawn-cee Nawn-cee”) is going to keep it safe from our “donate” pile for a good long time.

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One thing that really seals the deal for my kids’ book hall of fame is a solid rhythm and rhyme scheme. Now, there are plenty of kids’ books that are considered rhyming reads, but they ‘rhyme’ about as well as Kraft Singles pass themselves off as sharp cheddar. If I can’t make it through a page without tripping or awkwardly pausing, or shifting around where the beat hits in a sentence, it’s no good. And I’m talking about during the first read through. These are strict criteria, I realize, but to be a well-worn book in this house, you gotta rise to the (rhyme) occasion. If the words are catchy enough that they become an earworm, and I find myself tapping my foot to a two-line phrase in my head while I’m driving down the road or standing in line for coffee—well, that’s good rhyme writin’ right there.

I have a mental list of these very kind of books, some of my tried and true, toe-tappin’ jams. So I decided I’d share them here, because who doesn’t need good-writin’/good-readin’ children’s book recommendations? No one, that’s who. So here, in no particular order, and from me, who has no actual authority or expertise in this area, are five of my all-time favorite rhyme and rhythm reads for kids:

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1. Trucks: Whizz! Zoom! Rumble! by Patricia Hubbell

We got this book as a gift from a good friend’s mom who also happens to be an elementary school principal, and let me tell you, that’s who you want buying you books. Elementary school principals know what’s up. This one’s been a steady pick off the shelf since Noah first cracked the spine in preschool. It’s so rhythmic, it practically reads itself. (Also highly recommended, its counterpart Trains: Steaming! Pulling! Huffing!whose rhymes actually sound like the rhythm of a train chugging down a track.)

Old trucks, new trucks, going-to-the-zoo trucks. Red trucks, blue trucks, bringing-toys-to-you trucks. Trucks that rumble, roar, and shriek. Trucks that putter, groan and creak. 

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2. Sandra Boynton’s books. All of them.

OK, maybe not ALL of them. I get tripped up on the ones that have singing, if I haven’t heard the song before. (Although I have pretty mean musical improv skills, not gonna lie.) But other than that, I would have to hail Sandra Boynton the Queen of Rhyme (paired with Dr. Seuss, who is King). Her books are clever and funny and bop from page to page without a hitch. Actually, I’m not sure why we don’t own all of them. Why do we not own all of them? Hmm, this is a problem.

Top picks:

The Going To Bed Book:

With some on top and some beneath, they brush and brush and brush their teeth. And when the moon is on the rise, they all go up to exercise! 

Barnyard Dance!:

Bounce with the bunny. Strut with the duck. Spin with the chickens now—CLUCK CLUCK CLUCK! With a BAA and a MOO and a COCKADOODLEDOO everybody promenade two by two!

Other particularly rhyme-worthy faves: But Not the Hippopotamus, It’s Pajama Time!, and Fifteen Animals!

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3. Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? by Dr. Seuss

Ain’t nobody do it like Seuss. Anyone who makes up words is the bee’s knees to me, and Seuss is the original wordmeister. Just like Sandra Boynton, I could probably list all of his books, but this one is SO satisfying to read, I feel like I’m Bernadette Peters as the witch in Into the Woods doing the “Greens/Witch’s Rap.” Not only does each page hum along effortlessly, he combines the rhymes of the previous pages as he goes, tacking them on to each other neatly, and then puts all the noises of the whole book on the last page in one giant finale of syncopation. Oh Teddy G., you and your rhyme-crafting are so dreamy.

Oh the wonderful things Mr. Brown can do!

MOO MOO 
BUZZ BUZZ
POP POP POP
EEK EEK
HOO HOO
KLOPP KLOPP KLOPP
DIBBLE DIBBLE DOPP DOPP
COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO

Mr. Brown can do it. How about you?

Runner up: Dr. Seuss’s ABC BookI count it as a particular source of pride that I can recite this book from memory from start to finish. #mompartytrickshayyyy

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4. The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman

I reviewed this book once for an online family magazine some years ago (pre-Max), saying:

“Both my kids sit enraptured while I read this whimsical tale of a mom trying her best to feed her seven finicky kids, easily drawn to the effortlessly flowing rhymes and rich illustrations. Every word in the book has a logical place and purpose, and the narrative comes together seamlessly, complete with happy ending. I love books that I can read like a song, and this one definitely fits the bill — there’s no stumbling awkward prose to be found.

And bonus: The underlying message of the story is that compromise can be a beautiful thing. For a mom who’s dealt with her own picky eaters from time to time, that’s a message I can get behind.”

Yep, that’s pretty much it in a bag. This is a good one.

A year rolled by.
The children grew.
“They really are a splendid crew,” 
Sighed Mrs. Peters, pinning pins
And diapering her brand-new twins:
Little sisters, quick and smart,
Impossible to tell apart;
But Flo liked poached eggs, Fran liked fried.
If she mixed them up, they cried.

Tired to the very bone,
Mrs. Peters groaned a groan.
She’d take the eggs down from the shelf
And whisper weakly to herself,
“What persnickety young eaters
Are all my seven little Peters.”

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5. The Very Cranky Bear by Nick Bland

You knew this one was coming, right? I mean, come on. It’s my all-time favorite. (In case you haven’t seen it the 32 places I’ve posted it before, here is 2-year old Rosie, reading this book in a very 2-year-old Rosie way.)

“ROAR!” said the Cranky Bear. “ROAR ROAR ROAR!” He gnashed his teeth and stomped his feet and chased them out the door. 

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Clearly, five books does not a comprehensive list make, so I want to hear some of your favorites so I can be educated in more radical rhythm and rhyme. (Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. is one I considered including, but we don’t own a copy, so I can’t speak to its standing-the-test-of-time-edness.) I mean, gosh, if we found new favorites, I suppose we’d have to … buy more books? I guess we could prolly get down with that.

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November 17, 2014   15 Comments