Nursery rhyme books are a staple of childhood reading for good reason — they’re short and simple to read and remember, but they also carry layers of storytelling that introduce very young children to the ways that stories, rhymes, and language work. Reading nursery rhymes is a great way for parents and caregivers to bond with their little ones; children soon learn the rhythms of these sort-of-poems, sort-of-songs, sort-of-stories, and will quickly have their favourite characters and turns of phrase that they’ll be excited to hear. The spoken-word, interactive nature of nursery rhymes means that reading them to kids can become a pair activity as well as a group activity, getting the whole family involved in the fun.
Traditional nursery rhymes have been told and retold in a huge number of editions, with slightly different twists and often with beautiful new illustrations to explore. But many writers have also taken old nursery rhymes and used them as a springboard to create a whole new work, reinterpreting the rhymes or updating them for the modern era. Other authors and illustrators have created their own nursery rhymes, bringing brand-new tales and characters to children’s storytimes. There are a wealth of nursery rhyme books out there for babies and toddlers that parents and guardians will love to explore — here are some of the best.
The Puffin Book of Nursery Rhymes by Raymond Briggs
While the late, great Raymond Briggs was best-known for works such as The Snowman and When the Wind Blows, he also created a book of nursery rhymes, complete with the beautiful illustrations that his books are so well-known for. There are over 250 rhymes in this book, with old classics and new favourites for families to read together.
Singing Black: Alternative Nursery Rhymes for Children by Mari Evans, illustrated by Ramon Price
A new version of a beloved classic, Singing Black contains nursery rhymes centred on African American experiences by renowned poet Mari Evans. Evans’s rhymes focus on family and friendship, and are wonderful to read aloud to children.
The Orchard Book of Nursery Rhymes for Your Baby by Penny Dann
This very cute book contains 60 of the best-known nursery rhymes, including ‘Hickory Dickory Dock’ and ‘Old Macdonald Had a Farm’, perfect for any caregiver to read — or sing! — to their baby. Dann’s illustrations bring the rhymes to life, and your baby will love looking at the pictures.
Rhymes of the Times: Black Nursery Rhymes by Audrey Muhammed, Illustrated by Kofi Johnson
Following a conversation with her brother about how well they could both still remember nursery rhymes they’d heard in their childhoods, Muhammed wrote Rhymes of the Times to teach Black history to young children through the medium of nursery rhymes. With poems such as ‘Martin Had a Little Dream’ and ‘Woman on the Bus,’ this book is both fun and educational for kids.
Each Peach Pear Plum by Allan Ahlberg, Illustrated by Janet Ahlberg
Kind of a meta-nursery-rhyme, Each Peach Pear Plum has been a popular read for generations. The poem-story moves through a nursery-rhyme world, following a variety of different famous nursery rhyme characters, and the fantastic, in-depth illustrations mean there is plenty for children and their adults to spot and discuss.
Chinese and English Nursery Rhymes by Faye-Lynn Wu, Illustrated by Kieren Dutcher
Chinese and English Nursery Rhymes is a great read for any caregiver who wants to immerse their child in more than one language from a very young age. Wu’s book presents nursery rhymes like ‘Hickory Dickory Dock’ and ‘Muffin Man’ in English and Mandarin, both versions side-by-side. There are also downloads of each language available to help families sing and speak along.
Lullaby (For A Black Mother) by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Sean Qualls
In Lullaby (For a Black Mother), poet Langston Hughes writes a beautiful tribute to the bond between a Black mother and her baby. Hughes’s rhyme is easy to both speak and sing, and Sean Qualls’s lovely illustrations make this book a perfect gift for any parent of a brand-new baby.
The Great Nursery Rhyme Disaster by David Conway, Illustrated by Melanie Williamson
The Great Nursery Rhyme Disaster takes traditional nursery rhymes and turns them on their heads. Little Miss Muffet is sick of her tuffet, so she goes to find a new rhyme to live in, causing chaos along the way. Young children with a little knowledge of old nursery rhymes will find the subversion hilarious — as will their adults.
With these nursery rhyme books, and many others, parents and guardians will have plenty of upbeat or soothing options to read to the young children in their lives. If you’re interested in the backstories to some famous rhymes, try 6 Nursery Rhymes and Where They Came From. Eager for more alternative nursery rhymes? Try Jack Fell Down and Broke His…