This little piggy went to market and found a fun crop of silly rhymes for little ones

BOOKS FOR KIDS

August 13, 1993|By Molly Dunham Glassman | Molly Dunham Glassman,Staff Writer

I used to think my generation would be the last with an oral tradition, singing such classics as, "Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg. The Batmobile lost a wheel, and the Joker took ballet. Hey!"

Then I overheard a couple of 4-year-olds parodying a certain purple dinosaur: "I hate you, you hate me. We're a stoop-id fam-i-leee. . . ."

Even in the age of Nintendo, interactive video and MTV, younger children get a kick out of rhymes with no reason. Here are some sources for silly, sassy verse.

* For a sense of cultural continuity, nothing beats the first time your kid comes home from school with a poem she is sure was created yesterday. And then you hear it: "Teacher teacher, we don't care. We can see your underwear. Is it black or is it white? Oh my gosh, it's dynamite!"

That's one of the more than 150 entries in "Doctor Knickerbocker and Other Rhymes," selected by David Booth, illustrated by Maryann Kovalski (Ticknor & Fields, $16.95, ages 8 and up).

It's packed with classics, such as, "I'm rubber, you're glue. Whatever you say bounces off me, and sticks to you," and "Happy birthday to you, you live in a zoo. You look like a monkey, and you act like one, too."

Perhaps since Mr. Booth is Canadian, there are variations on American favorites as well as several I don't recall from childhood, including: "As I sat under the apple tree, a birdie sent his love to me. And as I wiped it from my eye, I said, 'Thank goodness cows can't fly.' "

Ms. Kovalski's pen-and-ink illustrations are a combination of cartoon and caricature, just right for the rhymes, and the index of first lines in the back is indispensable.

This book is a nice contemporary complement to last year's "I Saw Esau: The Schoolchild's Pocket Book," edited by Iona and Peter Opie and illustrated by Maurice Sendak (Candlewick Press, $19.95).

* Joanna Cole and Stephanie Calmenson have put together four fine collections of rhymes, all illustrated by Alan Tiegreen and available as Mulberry paperbacks from William Morrow & Co. for $6.95 each.

They are "Anna Banana: 101 Jump-rope Rhymes," "Miss Mary Mack and Other Children's Street Rhymes," "The Eentsy, Weentsy Spider: Fingerplays and Action Rhymes" and the newest, "Pat-A-Cake and Other Play Rhymes."

"Pat-A-Cake" has step-by-step instructions for 30 games to play with babies. Maybe you don't need a diagram to do "This little piggy went to market," but chances are there are games in here that your mother never passed along to you.

"Trot Along to Boston," is an easy knee-riding rhyme I'd never heard, for example. And for all the times we stole my daughter's nose when she was little, neither my husband nor I knew the words to "Chop-A-Nose Day."

This book is an ideal present for a baby shower. Another set of collections to check out are written and illustrated by Marc Brown and published in hardback by Dutton: "Finger Rhymes," "Hand Rhymes" and "Play Rhymes."

* We're all indebted to the late Alvin Schwartz, who compiled many books of American folklore, humor and horror stories. Beginning readers will enjoy "I Saw You in the Bathtub and Other Folk Rhymes," by Mr. Schwartz, illustrated by Syd Hoff (HarperTrophy paperback, $3.50, ages 4-8).

Most of the 40 poems are as similar to the title verse: "I saw you in the street, I saw you in a tree, I saw you in the bathtub -- Whoops! Pardon Me!" They're all tame enough for kindergarten, which is where I think I first heard, "Tattletale, ginger ale, stick your head in a garbage pail."

* OK, palindromes aren't rhymes. But anything that reads the same backward and forward can be fun, and here's a book that rates a "Wow!" from the Palindrome Weekly.

"Go Hang a Salami! I'm a Lasagna Hog! and Other Palindromes" is written by Jon Agee and illustrated by Eega Noj (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $12.21, all ages).

Mr. Agee and his slightly backward artist, Mr. Noj, have teamed ** up on a book worthy of the top spot on any shelf. The pen-and-ink cartoons are an integral part of many of the palindromes, but here's a sampling anyway: Llama mall; Yo! Bozo boy!; A car, a man, a maraca; Pooh's hoop.

My favorite shows a bearded man singing on the roof of a peasant's cottage, a broken fiddle in his hand. "If I had a hi-fi . . ."

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