I recognize the awesomeness of a wordless picture book and I can read chunks of prose with the best of them, but my favorites are rhyming books done well. Rhyme can propel the story along, make it easier for me to read, and give a natural rhythm to the words. In some cases, most notably with Dr. Seuss, it can help me figure out how to pronounce the names of fantastical creatures. (Flumox rhymes with rocks, not stomaches.) But all to often, the rhymes are the same. Add in the fact that many picture books just label everyday objects, and bedtime reading starts to feel mundane. Here are four picture books that rhyme in a clever way. The Duchess Bakes a Cake by Virginia Kahl was new to me when we picked it up at the library this week. It’s on the longer side, but both my four-year-old and my seven-year-old loved it. I had been tossing around the idea for this post for a while when our we sat down to read the book. By the second page, I was chuckling. “One day the Duchess sat up in the tower, she had listened to minstrels for many an hour. She was bored with embroidery, tired of talking, she hoped no one suggest that she venture out walking.” By the time the duchess was adding six times the yeast (for good measure), I knew the book would make this list.
But Not the Hippopotamus by Sandra Boynton. Any of Boynton’s books could substitute here (other favorites at our house are Happy Hippo, Angry Duck and Hippos Go Berserk), but But Not the Hippopotamus was my first love as a new parent. The book is light on text, but not boring. Honestly, I fell in love with the first line (“A hog and a frog cavort in a bog”) because how often do you have occasion to read the word “cavort” to the pacifier-loving set?
Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman. I went back and forth on this one and here is why: the first few times I read it, I tripped over the words. While not an automatic disqualification, I really lean towards reading (and recommending) books that flow easily, especially for bedtime reading. Ultimately, I’ve included the book on the list for the same reasons I fell in love with the book: gorgeous illustration and fantastic word choice. Sometimes a picture book leans on the illustrations to pain the picture (No judgement here. Picture book illustrations can be amazing.), but Bear Snores On uses such perfect words to describe how things look and sound. Just listen: “Mouse squeaks, ‘Too damp, too dank, too dark.’ So he lights wee twigs with a small, hot spark. The coals pip-pop and the wind doesn’t stop. But the bear snores on.” The melody of the book is so great.
The Littlest Llama by Jane Buxton and Jenny Cooper was a gift from a friend who lived for a time in Peru (which, as fans of The Emperor’s New Groove remember, is home to llama and alpaca herds). There are two Spanish words in the book (altiplano and mañana), but you don’t need to read the language to enjoy the book. Again, the rhyme helps with pronunciation questions, if there are any. As with the other books, I love the word choice. A book with a simple message and few words need not be mind-numbingly boring. It is not uncommon for one of the adults in this house to quote the book spontaneously. “The littlest llama just wanted to play, neck-wrestling, jumping, and chasing all day. But the grown-up llamas had work to do. They had food to find and cud to chew.” Our copy of the book is completely falling apart after being well-loved for almost 8 years. I’m sad that the book is not more widely popular, but I won’t complain about getting a new copy for just a few dollars either.
Honorable mention to Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book for being all of what Dr. Seuss is great at as well as the preferred method of the possessive of a last name ending in s. The book didn’t make the top 4 because it is long. Like really long. Like so long I try to hide it from my kids sometimes. When they do find the book (they always do) and talk me into reading it, it only takes me a few pages to remember how great it is. Now that the second grader has started occasionally reading books to the younger ones for bedtime, I may slide this one into his pile.