September 03, 2009


The Nursery Rhyme Book. Compiled by Helen Cumberbatch. Illustrated by Anne Anderson and Lisa Jackson. Scholastic. $9.99.

The Games Book. By Huw Davies. Illustrated by Lisa Jackson. Scholastic. $9.99.

When the Leaf Blew In. By Steve Metzger. Illustrated by Kellie Lewis. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $5.99.

     The Nursery Rhyme Book and The Games Book, two hardcovers with an old-fashioned appearance, are designed to help families “remember the rhymes of yesterday” and learn “how to play the games of yesterday,” according to their respective subtitles. Old-style layout and illustrations reminiscent of those in books from the past complete the visual picture. The question is: to what sorts of families will the books appeal? The books are designed to inspire nostalgia in parents, helping them connect their children to memories of the parents’ own childhoods and even to earlier times. How well the books work will depend heavily on modern family dynamics. The Nursery Rhyme Book includes quite a number of rhymes that remain familiar today: “Humpty Dumpty,” “Rain, Rain, Go Away,” “Little Bo-Peep,” “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep,” and so on. It also offers some rhymes that are still well-known to British children (both this book and The Games Book were originally published last year in England): “Christmas Is Coming,” “Lucy Locket,” “Aiken Drum,” “Ladybird, Ladybird” (known as “Ladybug, Ladybug” in the United States), and others. And then there are some verses that have indeed fallen from popularity in recent times, such as “The Big Ship Sails on the Ally-Ally-Oh,” “Little Polly Flinders,” “Three Children Sliding,” “Heigh-Ho, the Carrion Crow” and “Who Killed Cock Robin?” Parents who find the mixture pleasing – thumb through the book before buying! – will find its pseudo-old-fashioned charm attractive; others may simply not be interested in passing many of these old rhymes along.

     The Games Book will provoke similar interest, or lack of it. Here too there are games that remain quite familiar, such as “Rock, Paper, Scissors,” “Simon Says,” “Tag,” “Hide-and-Seek” and “Pat-a-Cake.” But there are also some with which modern families are unlikely to be familiar: “Fizz Buzz” (a counting game where “fizz” substitutes for numbers divisible by three and “buzz” for ones divisible by seven); “Adder’s Nest” (an attempt to pull one player onto a central object, such as a manhole cover); “Wink Murder” (a game of potential victims, detectives and a make-believe killer); “Crusts and Crumbs” (a two-team tag game); and “Queenie” (a find-who-is-hiding-the-ball game). Many of these games require a fairly large number of cooperative players, and quite a few need a good deal of outdoor space and plenty of adult supervision. Again, this is a book to look through before purchase – parents will know whether their children and their kids’ friends will find these games enjoyably participatory or, in our video-game age, hopelessly slow-paced and out of date.

     When the Leaf Blew In is not an attempt to reinvigorate old-style entertainment, nor is it an old book (it was originally published in 2006 and is now available in paperback). But it does make use of a variation on an old form called cumulative rhyme. Most parents know this technique, even if they do not know what it is called – it is the form in which every line connects back to previous ones, as in “The House That Jack Built,” “The Twelve Days of Christmas” of “For Want of a Nail” (the last of these being one of the poems in The Nursery Rhyme Book). Steve Metzger’s text in When the Leaf Blew In does not rhyme, but the underlying idea is the same: a leaf blows into the barn, so the cow sneezes; the cow’s sneeze causes a spider to land on an owl; that causes the owl to swoop out of the barn; that leads the pig to dive into the mud; and so on. The cause-and-effect cycle, amusingly illustrated by Kellie Lewis, eventually leads right back to the beginning, as we find out why the leaf blew into the barn in the first place – and the whole cycle presumably starts all over again. This is a gently amusing story, featuring animals with pleasantly human expressions and reactions – there is nothing consequential here, but the book is easy to read, and young children will enjoy looking at the pictures.

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