Monday, 23 July 2018

From Nursery Rhyme to Picture Book, by Pippa Goodhart

Nursery rhymes are often nonsensical, at least to modern child understanding, and yet they persist, generation to generation, often having lasted hundreds of years.  Why?  It’s the rhythm and the rhyme and the repetition that makes them memorable and easy to join in with, as well as nice to rock a baby to.  Those three ‘r’s, rhythm, rhyme and repetition, are often found in picture book stories for young children for those same reasons.  So it makes good, clever, sense to use an established old rhyme as the basis for a new picture book story.  Here are three such books which work wonderfully well –

Brand new, bright and fun, full of vehicles and sounds, with a proper mix of people driving the many vehicles, is Car, Car, Truck, Jeep, written by Katrina Charman and illustrated by Nick Sharratt.  This whizz along with busy vehicles comes to a nicely sleepy end, and matches the pattern of rhythm and rhyme laid out in Baa Baa Black Sheep … ‘Baa baa black sheep, have you any wool?  Yes, sir.  Yes, sir, three bags full.  One for the master.  One for the dame.  One for the little boy who lives down the lane.’





Quieter, and more sophisticated, but wonderfully powerful, is This Is The Star, written by Joyce Dunbar and illustrated by Gary Blythe.  This tells the Christmas story, mirroring the cumulative rhyme that is This Is The House That Jack Built … ‘ This is the house that Jack built.  This is the malt that lay in the house that Jack built.  This is the rat that ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built.  This is the cat that killed the rat that ate the malt … and so on for many more verses.’  The big problem with a cumulative story is that the text gets bulkier and the pictures more crowded, meaning that the finale can all look at bit small.  But Joyce Dunbar punctures that with a spread that breaks that pattern startlingly to give us, ‘This is the child that was born.’ 





Each Peach, Pear, Plum by Janet and Alan Ahlberg is, of course an old favourite. The original playground rhyme seems to go something like, ‘Each, peach, pear, plum, out goes Tom Thumb.  Tom Thumb won’t do so out goes Betty Blue. Betty Blue won’t go, so out goes you!’ It’s one of those rhymes for eliminating a child at a time in order to choose who will be 'It' for a game.  The Ahlbergs took the structure, and the idea of playing with familiar nursery rhyme or fairytale characters, from that rhyme, and made a classic of it.  

Image result for each peach pear plum images 
Image result for each peach pear plum images

Do you know of any other picture books based on well-known children’s rhymes?  Can you suggest a rhyme ripe for such picture book treatment?

6 comments:

  1. Oh gosh, yes, the existing rhythm and rhyme pattern of many nursery rhymes is etched into me. I went through a bit of a phase of doing texts based on them, and they were great fun to write: I Saw Anaconda (illustrated by Emma Dodd, based on the old lady who followed a fly) Who Woke the Baby?( illustrated by Charles Fuge, based on the house that Jack built) and Old MacDonald's things that go, illustrated by Migy Blanco) :-)

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  2. Oh yes, your picture books are prime examples, Jane ... with really lovely results. I don't know Who Woke the Baby, so will search that one out.

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  3. The House that Jack Built seems to have inspired a lot of picture books. Through the Heart of the Jungle, by me and Elena Gomez, is also based on it!
    http://www.scribblestreet.co.uk/pictures/jungle/jungle.html

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  4. Aha! Another book I must search out and read! Thank you, Jonathan.

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  5. I wrote extended texts / lift the flap Books for Five Little Ducks and This Little Piggy went to Market published by Ragged Bears

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  6. Yes, its fun to extend something already existing, isn't it. I did that with Row Your Boat a very long time ago.

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