Friday, March 11, 2011

Shake Your Sillies Out (in Rhyme)

Kids LOVE silly books.  Parents (at least this parent) love silly books, too - as long as they are also clever.  Without further ado, our current favorite silly books that will please both parents and kids; each is told in rhyme.

Mary Had a Little Lamp by Jack Lechner (disclaimer: he and his family live down the block from me and we are friendly; this review, however, is entirely my own opinion) is a whimsical take on the well-known children's nursery rhyme.  Everyone knows a child with a slightly odd transitional object.  But Mary's parents are concerned by her choice, a lamp.  My favorite verse?  "Their doctor [who appears to be a psychiatrist] said/'I've never seen/So puzzling a condition./But lamps are not my specialty/You need an electrician.'"  Mary finally gives up her lamp... only to become attached to another unusual object!  Don't miss the droll blurbs on the back, with comments from other nursery rhyme characters ("I hated it," says Mary, Mary Quite Contrary).  With distinctive, cartoony art by Bob Staake, this one's a winner.

Speaking of Bob Staake, my other favorite book of his is The Red Lemon, which he both wrote and illustrated.
It makes the reader wonder - what if something you thought was unusual, abnormal, became the new normal?   The Donut Chef is also a fun read, with tempting illustrations of glass-faced bakery cases filled with donuts.  (It was even mentioned in this recent New York Times article about donut shops in the city.  Perhaps this book will inspire a (very yummy) field trip!)  His illustrations in We Planted a Tree by Diane Muldrow redeem the preachy environmental message (this one is not silly, nor does it rhyme) and it is fun trying to identify the different locations pictured.  My favorite is, of course, the tree planted in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge. 

My 3-year-old has memorized John Lithgow's Marsupial Sue.  "Marsupial Sue,/ a young kangaroo,/ hated the hopping that kangaroos do."  You see, Sue is having a bit of an identity crisis.  In the end, of course, she learns the lesson repeated throughout the book: "Marsupial Sue, a lesson or two: Be happy with who you are."  While I'm usually not a fan of such explicit messages in books (not to mention it has a slightly defeatist attitude, "just do what kangaroos do," as well as being suggestive of the rationales given for why, say, women shouldn't be doctors, lawyers, etc.), the absurd elements of the story (Sue decides to try being a sea creature but upon swallowing "a scallop, a shrimp and a trout" ends up with "typhoid, pneumonia, colic, and gout") render the lesson less... well, annoying.  The rhymes are witty - Sue meets a wallaby who is a "version of her/in miniature."  How do authors come up with these?!?  The book comes with a CD in which the text is sung by Lithgow with great expression.  My only complaint is that the waltzing rhythm is a bit fast to dance to.

Finally, a fun tongue-twisting read-aloud is Bubble Trouble by Margaret Mahy illustrated by Polly Dunbar.  "Little Mabel blew a bubble, and it caused a lot of trouble... /Such a lot of bubble trouble in a bibble-bobble way./For it broke away from Mabel as it bobbed across the table,/where it bobbled over Baby, and it wafted him away."  We follow Baby as he floats across the town in his bubble, gathering spectators along the way.  The only moment that gave me pause is when Baby is about to fall, and a bystander says, "Upon my honor, there's a baby who's a goner!"  (My kids, though, were unfazed.)  In the end, of course, Baby is saved. 

What are your favorite silly books?  Rhyming books?


  1. Bubble Trouble doesn't float my boat but Marsupial Sue has grown on me, especially since MY three year old can quote huge swaths of it (how can she keep all that text in that little head?). I usually discount celebrity books as being successful based at least in part on celebrity but Lithgow wrote something clever. I've ready Mary Had a Little Lamp and it definitely is one of those kids books that gets read because it entertains the parents.

  2. You've got to read PSST! by Adam Rex. We heard it at a drama workshop (read by actors) and everyone was on the floor. Later that day my 5-year-old insisted that we get it from the library, and we may never give it back.

  3. @Renee: Thanks for the recommendation! I'm definitely going to check it out.