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A feast of rhymes

Playtime Rhymes Illustrated by Sally Gardner Orion Pounds 10.99. A First Picture Book of Nursery Rhymes Illustrated by Elizabeth Harbour Penguin Pounds 9.99. The Oxford Nursery Rhyme Book Illustrated by Ian Beck University Press Pounds 12.99. The Barefoot Book of Rhymes Around the Year Compiled and illustrated by Marc Vyvyan-Jones Barefoot Pounds 12.99.

Sheila Quigley runs down the latest chart entries in the top of the nursery pops.

Here are four books which, in the words of Walter De La Mare, will "free the fancy, charm the tongue and delight the inward eye", of any young child.

Playtime Rhymes contains all the action songs that are top of the nursery pops. Lorna, my three-year-old granddaughter, was thrilled to find all her favourites from "Looby Loo" to "Five Little Ducks". Sarah, aged five, liked it because she knew all the rhymes and could read it herself. Children will have good fun singing, dancing, clapping and miming to this excellent collection, my first choice for the early years.

The lively illustrations in bright, clear colours leap off the page with exuberance and vitality. The robust good humour of the pictures will inspire the most taciturn child to discussion.

This is a book for the library of every playgroup, nursery school and infant class and parents of young children will also be delighted with it. A tape would make a nice accompaniment for those not familiar with the tunes.

A First Book of Nursery Rhymes has all the stuff that most collections are made of, such as "Georgie Porgie" and "Polly Flinders", but is lifted above run-of-the-mill anthologies by its elegant and delightful illustrations.

Working in oils, in soft fondant colours, the artist has enhanced the rhymes with scenes set in frames, exquisite miniatures and delicately wrought cameos, all in period. There is a charming and subtle humour about her work. Beautifully patterned end-papers and a decorative list of contents entice us into this jewel of an anthology that will enchant two to six-year-olds and will be taken lovingly from the shelf by many an older reader. This is a book to keep forever.

The Oxford Nursery Rhyme Book takes the child a little further along the road into "real" poetry with Christina Rossetti, Thomas Hood, Robert Louis Stevenson, Lear, Longfellow and William Blake.

There is nothing unexpected here and it is none the worse for that, for which child does not enjoy sailing away for a year and a day with the Owl and the Pussycat, sharing Robert Louis Stevenson's swing, or listening to the sound of the wind with Christina Rossetti? Here is a feast of riddles, rhymes, tongue twisters, limericks and lullabies, all gloriously illustrated by Ian Beck. The pictures are gorgeous, bringing to life a magic childhood world full of beautiful, romantic imagery and sounds and rhythms that nourish the imagination. This is a welcome addition to any library. It will bring endless hours of pleasure.

The Barefoot Book of Rhymes Around the Year is not just another book of nursery rhymes, although it contains many. Marc Vyvyan-Jones marks off the great wheel of the year into seasons, high days and holidays in verse and couplet, exploring the traditions and customs associated with them.

He offers a wassailing song for New Year, a Maypole dance and song for spring, an extract from "John Barleycorn" for harvest time and a splendid mummers' play for Christmas. There is also a wealth of ballads, chants, runes, rhymes, spells, and sayings, all garnished with weather lore. This is an excellent book to help children at the upper end of key stage 1 explore the richness of our oral heritage and a useful resource for teachers at any level planning assemblies and celebrations.

The artist employs all manner of intricate devices to intrigue and divert the reader. The pages are illustrated with delightful scenes of bucolic revelry. The initial capital for each rhyme is wonderfully decorated. Every page number has a seasonal decoration. Little rhymes run around the borders of the page. There is a "Can you see?" section at the end, with extra information about the topics covered in each page, and two pages of suggestions for further reading, music and recorded stories for parents and teachers. A book suitable for five to nine-year-olds, and folksy types from nine to 99. I loved it.

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