Olly and Me
Written and illustrated by Shirley Hughes
Walker Books pound;10.99
By Tony Mitton, illustrated by Paddy Mounter
David Fickling Books pound;12.99
All the Colours of the Earth
Selected by Wendy Cooling, illustrated by Sheila Moxley
Frances Lincoln pound;12.99
By Charles Ghigna, illustrated by Johann Speirs
Even the youngest child appreciates rhythm and rhyme and these books will be enjoyed not just by those for whom they're intended (mainly under-sevens) but by the adults who are going to have to read them aloud over and over again. Not all the poems rhyme, but many do, and those have a way of sticking in the mind.
Shirley Hughes is one of our best-loved illustrators, but she's also a good writer. These poems are vignettes from the life of a typical Hughes family.
Olly is the younger brother of Katie, in whose voice they are written. They have a cat called Ginger, and one of the simplest, yet most effective poems is the one in which Katie decides that he's nicer than any other cat.
Some of the pieces, such as "Happy Birthday, Dear Mum" and "Pancakes", are prose poems, but most of them, even though they don't rhyme, are clearly in verse. "Car ride" and "Ice in the Park" are two of the best, but my favourite, perhaps because it's the simplest and has a good rhyme-scheme, is called "Three in a Bed".
In a couple of the poems, the "voice" is too grown-up to believe it's actually Katie speaking, but this is a nit-pick about a lovely book full of the most delightful pictures. They show family life in a way that's warm and loving without being in the least sentimental. Shirley Hughes fans will not be disappointed.
Sometimes a very simple idea is all you need to turn an ordinary collection of nursery rhymes into something else entirely. Tony Mitton has hit on the wonderful notion of embedding each one in a riddle. This gives him an opportunity to introduce each rhyme in an intriguing way, and provide a hook to make the child turn the page and be rewarded by the answer.
Naturally, many of them will know the answer in advance, and they will feel most superior to their classmates while the book is being read aloud, which is all part of the fun. The illustrations are lovely: Paddy Mounter has something about his style that's reminiscent of Peter Bailey, and the colours are perfect: not too bright, but not a bit wishy-washy. All in all, another delicious addition to the list of Tony Mitton's successes.
The poems in Wendy Cooling's collection come from all over the world and are by poets both well-known and unfamiliar (one South American poet wishes to remain anonymous). Every sort of childhood experience is described here.
Sheila Moxley's illustrations bring worldwide cultures to life by painting a river running over the page, a hillside alive with kites, or (pictured) a busy city street. The endpapers show the European countryside by the clever use of yellow space (representing a field of ripe corn) surrounded by houses, trees and donkeys. This book is pitched a little older than the others, and will give a great deal of pleasure to readers aged up to eight or nine.
Charles Ghigna is an American poet, also known as Father Goose (you'll find him on www.FatherGoose.com). His book is very jolly and amusing and the pictures fit the verses perfectly. Yes, they're all about animals, some real and some not.
Some of the poems are a bit silly but small children will have a lot of fun with them. They'll learn many of them by heart very quickly and follow you around repeating them.