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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15 comments

1 Sybil { 11.17.14 at 10:18 am }

Love these! Almost nothing in parenting has compared to watching Fletch learn to read – and love to read. And it’s been fun to see which books stand the test of the second child and which I was over when Lane came along – or that she didn’t love as much as Fletch and I did. One of her faves is Little Blue Truck. The Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown is one of my favorites.

2 racher { 11.17.14 at 10:22 am }

@Sybil—Yes! It’s fun seeing which books are 3 out of 3 Ellis kids approved. We just got Little Blue Truck this year, and like it a lot, although I think a couple of the lines make me stumble. Big Red Barn was runner up for this list, totally! That one’s been a fave since Noah was wee!

3 Betsy { 11.17.14 at 10:45 am }

We are big readers too. Many of these are among our favorites, and I definitely need to add The Seven Silly Eaters to our list. Speaking of Mary Ann Hoberman, we love A House is a House for Me – also a great rhyming read.

Oh, and I could not agree more about Love You Forever. There are very very few books I refuse to read to my children, and that is one. Creepy stalker mother. Nope. The fact that my husband and his family love that book is the only reason we even still own copy. Ugh. So, if you are a monster, then I am one too! My favorite Robert Munsch (to show that I don’t hate the author, just that particular book)is Paper Bag Princess – if your kids (especially R!) don’t know that one, you should absolutely get it and read it with them! It’s not rhyming, but is fabulous.

4 Ashlyn { 11.17.14 at 10:48 am }

Thank you for this list! I naively started our kid book collection with the notion that all book are good books. Wrong. Some of the books (even “classics”–I’m looking at you, Goodnight Moon) make no sense, and worse, have no real rhythm or rhyme structure. Books with a compelling plot (for Mama) and solid rhymes (for Mama and baby) are few and far between. I LOVE having a list of suggestions on the good ones. I just added all of these to the wishlist. Feel free to throw out other suggestions when the urge strikes!

5 Rebekah { 11.17.14 at 11:01 am }

100% agree on bad rhyming books. I am all about rhyming Bill Peet books. We’ve read every one in the library and own several. They don’t all rhyme, but the ones that do are done well. Huge Harold comes to mind. Also just re-read The Snatchabook ((can’t remember the author at the moment) with my kids this morning and was again impressed with the easy rhythm of the rhyming.

6 Rachel D { 11.17.14 at 11:16 am }

Yes! The Very Cranky Bear is my favorite to read! (And I love love love the Rosie video.)

7 racher { 11.17.14 at 11:44 am }

@Betsy—You’re the second person to recommend A House is a House For Me. Def. gonna check that out! And I seem to remember seeing Paper Bag Princess, but have not read it, so will add that to the list, too!

@Ashlyn—Ha, the part I didn’t quote from my book review of Seven Silly Eaters said “If you’ve ever read to your kids at all, you know that children’s authors tend to take a whole lot of liberty with their rhymes. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Margaret Wise Brown, but rhyming moon with … moon? I call shenanigans.” Although, I do love the page where she says goodnight to nobody and to mush. So that book is still on the shelf over here. :)

@Rebekah—I just looked up Bill Peet, and I have read zero! Time to get on that …

@Rachel D. <3 The Very Cranky Bear 4-evah! (And Rosie's rendition.)

8 Gramps { 11.17.14 at 12:12 pm }

“In yellow sox I box my Gox,
I box in yellow Gox box sox.”
‘Nuff said.

9 Ginnymom { 11.17.14 at 1:11 pm }

I love children’s books and have LOTS (come to Tampa and read with me! soon!). I love the stories for story sake, and enjoy the chance to imagine part of it, so favorites for me include Goodnight Gorilla, Don Crews’ Truck, the wonderful Little Bear books (God bless Else Holmelund Minarik). And don’t forget Tikki Tikki Tembo. As they get older they seem to enjoy the Berenstain Bears, not really my favorite, so preachy. But my all-time favorite is Squash Pie; the kids need to be about 5 to start enjoying that. But really fine. Where the Wild Things Are makes for a good sermon illustration, and I have also used Green Eggs and Ham for that.

10 racher { 11.17.14 at 1:46 pm }

@Ginnymom—Oh, I haven’t even cracked open my FULL list of favorite books. I’ll do that post soon. :)

11 Mary Ann { 11.17.14 at 1:51 pm }

It’s always nice to know someone else that collects children’s lit. My Mom (and Grandmother) were kindergarten teachers and always had a great library. For me it’s not just about the rhythm, but also about the illustrations. They can be elaborate or silly, but they have to be good. For some reason I love the pink cheeked apples in “The Little Engine that Could” a lot. I remember them from my childhood, and think of that illustration every time I buy Gala apples.

Thanks for including “Seven Silly Eaters”. It’s a peach.

12 Carol { 11.17.14 at 7:52 pm }

A perfect rhyming classic is Over in the Meadow by Ezra Jack Keats.
“”Over in the meadow, in the sand, in the sun,
Lived an old mother turtle and her little turtle one.
‘Dig!’ said the mother.
‘I dig,’ said the one.
So he dug all day,
In the sand, in the sun.”

13 racher { 11.18.14 at 2:27 pm }

@Carol—EXCELLENT choice. We have a recording of that as a song on cassette tape—I used to listen to it as a kid!

14 alianora { 11.27.14 at 10:25 pm }

1. MASSIVE props for referencing the Witch’s Rap, although now I’ll be humming it the entire time I’m doing yoga.
2. I have the best tiny short video of Voldemort circa age less than one, giggling hysterically through Mr Brown Can Moo.
3. Recommendations!

-The Napping House
-To Market, To Market (some of the rhyme isn’t the best, but it’s worth it for the duck on her head)

15 racher { 12.01.14 at 12:04 am }

@alianora: Napping House, yes! I thought of that one after the fact as well. Another: Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow? Super clever and great illustrations.

Also: Shel Silverstein poems! ALWAYS. Forever and ever, amen. Can’t believe I didn’t mention him. I have another book post coming up (non-rhyming, just rad books in general), and he’ll be in there, fo sho!

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