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Dangerous rhymes

Collins Nursery Rhymes Harper Collins, CD #163;5.99, cassette #163;3.99

Collins Songs and Rhymes HarperCollins, CD #163;5.99, cassette #163;3.99.

Playtime Rhymes Orion cassette #163;2.99. Collins Lullabies

HarperCollins, CD only #163;5.99

She Classic Nursery Rhymes Hodder Children's Audio CD #163;8.99, cassette #163;3.99

Alphabet Songs Ladybird book and cassette, #163;3.99.

Let us start with a health warning. Parents, playleaders and teachers who value their sanity need to be very careful when buying a nursery rhyme tape or CD unheard. The national canon of weird, wonderful - and usually violent - juvenilia was never intended to be recorded and sounds peculiarly grating and mindlessly mad if not done with the utmost care and attention.

For this reason, Collins Nursery Rhymes - billed as 55 upbeat favourites - should be avoided at all costs. Imagine - if you will - a rap-style "Three Blind Mice", and shudder. Worse still is the relentlessly cheerful "Sing A Song Of Sixpence", which adds a mindlessly gleeful tone to the final, dreadful, line where the maid's nose gets pecked off. No horror here, or even shock - ideal rendition of nursery rhymes for teeny Tarantinos. And it goes on for 79 hideous minutes.

By contrast, Collins Songs and Rhymes benefits from this cheerful approach, opening with a duet of "I Know An Old Woman Who Swallowed A Fly" which sticks instantly in the brain and appeals equally to one and four-year-olds.

The She Classic Nursery Rhymes tape bills itself as being an ideal adjunct to busy parents who know the importance of such things for their offspring. That aside, it is probably the joint best of the bunch, featuring fun sound effects, an admirably non-patronising attitude and musical arrangements far removed from the normal boom bang-a-bang approach.Listened to in the car, several of the tracks sound distinctly Talking Heads-ish while others seem to owe something to Ry Cooder's steel guitar. What's more , the singers have some sense of drama about the rhymes. I liked it and so did the baby.

Our other favourite is Playtime Rhymes, a companion to the splendid book by Sally Gardiner. I suspect this would play well in a pre-school group as it contains a nice selection of unaccompanied rhymes as well as songs to join in with. This selection is also good on modern classic rhymes often preferred in nurseries, rather than the traditionally cruel favourites.

The Ladybird Alphabet Songs book and tape package is also pretty good: cheap and cheerful, it's an excellent way of helping children to learn letter sounds in an entertaining way and the two formats complement each other well. Ingeniously, the authors have managed to find a selection of songs which literally run from A to Z.

And finally, Collins Lullabies is a wonderfully restful selection, nicely performed, equally good for calming children and adults and a valuable introduction to a different musical style. The box suggests it would be ideal to send your baby to sleep at night: if that's the idea, then perhaps it should have been produced on cassette as well as CD.

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