Nursery Rhymes, Fingerplays, and Songs
You will want to have some of the books in this chapter on hand when your baby is born to move seamlessly into the habit of reading aloud. A collection of nursery rhymes is a must. These time-tested verses trip off the tongue, thanks to years of being polished through oral tradition. You will soon have memorized some of them—if you don’t already remember some from your childhood.
Turn to nursery rhymes at any time of day. Some will come to mind at certain moments, like “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe” while slipping on booties and “Wee Willie Winkie” at bedtime. But any favorite rhyme will entertain your child, especially if you say it with enthusiasm. Since nursery rhymes are so popular with very young children, not many collections of other poems are published for this age group. Ride a Purple Pelican (see page 62) and Read-Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young (see page 62) are two exceptions that will add variety to your reading for toddlers.
The term fingerplays covers a host of different types of rhymes accompanied by actions. You will find a number of collections and single versions of such action rhymes to captivate your child from birth through preschool. Many parents and grandparents will recall “This Is the Church,” “Eeensy-Weensy Spider,” and others, but most collections will also give you new ideas and lead to new favorites.
These books show gentle movements for you to entertain your baby by counting his fingers and toes, as in the familiar “This Little Piggy.” Although they can’t join in, babies like watching performances of fingerplays in which you move your fingers in conjunction with rhymes. When they get a bit bigger and sturdier, babies are ready for jogging rhymes, in which you bounce them gently on your knees to words such as “To market, to market, to buy a fat pig.” You can initiate hand-clapping rhymes like “Pat-a-Cake” by moving your baby’s hands before he can clap them himself.
Toddlers respond enthusiastically to all different action rhymes. They keep trying movements and eventually master them for verses like “Head, Shoulders, Knees, Toes” and “I’m a Little Teapot.” Dozens of other action rhymes and fingerplays are waiting for you to try with your toddler and preschooler, some of which are certain to delight you both.
Songs work the same way. In this chapter, you will find soothing lullabies to incorporate into naptime and bedtime routines. Many nursery rhymes have tunes that go with them, while other folk songs like “Old MacDonald” appeal to babies, too. Most of the single versions of songs to sing to babies and toddlers have illustrations with too many details for babies, but toddlers will enjoy looking at the pictures sometimes during the song. If you are at all musical, it’s great to own one of the longer collections of songs, which have simple music for piano and guitar. A good songbook will carry you from your child’s birth through elementary school and beyond. Beaton, Clare. Mother Goose Remembers. 2000. Hardcover: Barefoot Books. Good for groups. Ages newborn and up.
Stunning clothwork art distinguishes this collection of nursery rhymes from the many available. Beaton combines antique fabrics, bric-a-brac, and embroidery to create textured pictures with a three-dimensional feel. Humpty Dumpty perches roundly on a wall of stitched brown bricks, above yellow-and-green flowers that incorporate buttons into their design. The Queen of Hearts glows in her red felt dress and yellow crown, surrounded by a cunning border of hearts and dots. Even the first lines of the nursery rhymes are made from stitches. Forty-six rhymes, most of them familiar, provide just the right playful subject for the wonderful art.
Bedtime/Playtime. 1999. Board book: Candlewick. Ages 3 months and up.
These unusual board book anthologies bring together several stories and rhymes for very young children, with a variety of authors and illustrators. Both include a nursery rhyme illustrated by Rosemary Wells and a double-page spread by Catherine and Laurence Anholt with labeled pictures. Bedtime has five other short poems and stories, ending with a bedtime poem illustrated by Marc Brown. Playtime leans toward livelier rhymes that children can act out, such as “Heads and Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” This provides a good introduction to some fine illustrators for the young, which could lead you to more of their books.
Benjamin, Floella, collector. Skip across the Ocean: Nursery Rhymes from around the World. Illustrated by Sheila Moxley. 1995. Hardcover: Orchard. Ages newborn and up.
If you are looking to expand beyond the usual repertoire of nursery rhymes, here is an intriguing collection of thirty-two poems from around the world. Many are printed in their original language and English, and some provide directions for movements to go with the rhymes. The choices come from Poland, Puerto Rico, Sri Lanka, Sweden, and Nigeria, among other places. A rich palette characterizes the illustrations, which expand the international settings and characters. An attractive gift for new parents with a global outlook.
Brown, Marc. Finger Rhymes. 1980. Hardcover: Dutton. Paperback: Puffin. Good for groups. Ages newborn and up.
The author-illustrator of the well-known Arthur and D.W. books provides a service to parents in this and his other action rhyme books, listed below. Each double-page spread, illustrated with attractive black-and-white pictures, spells out a rhyme to say to young children while performing hand movements. Small boxes by each line of the verse show the hand movements and when to do them. Some of the fingerplays may be known to parents although perhaps only vaguely remembered, such as “The Eensy, Weensy Spider,” “Five Little Pigs,” and “Where Is Thumbkin?” Others will probably be unfamiliar. Try them out and see what amuses your child. As the child gets older, he or she will start imitating your hand movements and joining in the rhymes. These simple activities provide wonderful ways to interact with babies while exposing them to the pleasures of rhythmical language, invaluable for child-care providers as well as parents and grandparents. Party Rhymes, now out of print, looks similar but gives words and music for simple folk songs like “Skip to My Lou” and “The Muffin Man.”
Brown, Marc. Hand Rhymes. 1985. Hardcover: Dutton. Paperback: Puffin. Good for groups. Ages newborn and up.
Like Finger Rhymes above, this helpful book introduces fourteen fingerplays to entertain young children. Again, each double-page spread, illustrated here with tidy colored pictures, spells out a rhyme to say to young children while performing hand movements. Small boxes by each line of the verse show the hand movements and when to do them. Parents and other adults may recognize the rhymes that open “This is the church” and “Two little monkeys fighting in the bed,” but most will probably be new. Pick and choose among them to see what suits your child, who may join in the words and movements as a toddler. Not only do these little games entertain children one-on-one, but they are indispensable for working with groups of young children, guaranteed to catch the attention even of restless ones.
Brown, Marc. Play Rhymes. 1987. Paperback: Puffin. Good for groups. Ages newborn and up.
Like Finger Rhymes and Hand Rhymes, described above, this collection of rhymes includes small boxed pictures to illustrate movements that go with the verses. Unlike the previous two books, the movements go beyond hands to include the whole body. The illustrations, which are more inventive than in the earlier books, are too detailed for the very young, but parents will enjoy their humor and coziness. Several of the rhymes can be sung, with simple music provided at the back of the book, including “The Noble Duke of York,” “Do Your Ears Hang Low?” and “Wheels on the Bus.” This collection can lead to hours of playtime for parent and child over a number of years. Those who work with groups of children will also find it a real asset.
Calmenson, Stephanie. Good for You: Toddler Rhymes for Toddler Times. Illustrated by Melissa Sweet. 2001. Hardcover: HarperCollins. Good for groups. Ages 18 months and up.
An appealing collection of rhymes addresses daily life for young children from the potty to the playground, from blocks to bedtime. Eye-catching illustrations in a kaleidoscope of colors show a multicultural array of little kids having a good time. In the poem “First Things,” for example, a boy admires his first haircut, a girl holds up her first toothbrush, while another shows her first letter, from her grandmother. The verses rely on lots of lively word sounds, like “bumpity, bumpity” in a poem about a bus and “Tumble! Rumble! Blocks in a jumble!” Some short poems provide simple riddles to guess, with clues in the pictures. This is a book you and your child will want to browse in rather than read from cover to cover.
Carter, David A. If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands: A Pop-Up Book. 1997. Hardcover: Scholastic. Ages 12 months and up.
In this variation on the popular folk song, the lyrics and pop-up illustrations introduce new actions for children to imitate. The first line is the traditional “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.” When you pull on a tab, a smiling cat claps her hands. The next instruction, to “wag your tail,” shows a dog whose tail wags when the tab is pulled. A skunk pats its head, a chicken flaps its wings, an owl winks its eye, and a mouse touches its toes before the final picture, where all the animals pop up in a group and “shout hooray.” Well-constructed pop-ups with movements that invite listeners to participate make this an excellent choice for groups or individuals. Also try Carter’s Old MacDonald Had a Farm, which has a similar pop-up and tab format.
Chorao, Kay. Knock at the Door and Other Baby Action Rhymes. 1999. Hardcover: Dutton. Ages newborn and up.
Flowery illustrations fill each page of this useful collection of fingerplays and bouncing games. The twenty action rhymes, wonderful for entertaining the very young, range from well-known examples like “This Little Piggy” and “Pat-a-Cake” to the lesser-known “Here’s a Ball for Baby” and “Bunnies’ Bedtime.” Nicely displayed, the verses appear in large type, with a small box next to each line that shows the finger movements or ways to bounce the baby on your knees. Some suggest easy movements for the child, such as clapping or covering eyes. Others, for younger children, are carried out by the adult, such as “Slowly, Slowly,” where you creep your hand—“a little mousie”—up your baby’s arm to tickle under the neck. The illustrations are too detailed for very young children but will appeal to toddlers and adults who lean toward pastels and coziness.
Excerpted from Great Books for Babies and Toddlers by Kathleen Odean. Copyright © 2003 by Kathleen Odean. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.