Between the Lines: Mother Goose picture books that top the pecking order

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 July, 2013, 9:56am

Among her dozens of picture books, my younger daughter often makes a beeline for our tattered book of nursery rhymes and asks me to read it to her at least once a day.

While a two year-old tottering back to our cosy reading spot with a two-pound book in her arms is an adorable sight, whenever she asks, "Mama, can you read Mother Goose?", I always reply, " Mother Goose again?!" It has become such a recurring event that she now refers to this book as "Mother Goose Again".

In fact, the book's title is Mother Goose's Story Time Nursery Rhymes. Illustrated by Axel Scheffler with stories by Alison Green, it begins with a story introducing Mother Goose and her three goslings.

There are 90 nursery rhymes, interspersed with stories about the goose family. I know the music to about half of these nursery rhymes, so we usually sing rather than recite them.

There are conflicting reports of the origin of Mother Goose, the imaginary author of nursery rhymes and fairy tales, but references to her can be found as early as the 17th century.

In 1951, husband and wife team Iona and Peter Opie published The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes.

Iona Opie is an authority on children's rhymes and playground games, and author of the bestseller My Very First Mother Goose, illustrated by Rosemary Wells.

Richard Scarry's Best Mother Goose Ever is another well-loved version that has been in print for almost 50 years. The large illustrations, with most of the nursery rhymes on a two-page spread, depict animals dressed as humans.

Both Wells and Scarry are illustrators who create vibrant and joyful anthropomorphic characters: bunnies and cats for Wells; pigs and bears for Scarry.

Blanche Fisher Wright's The Real Mother Goose was first published in 1916. Evoking old-fashioned Victorian children at play, this keepsake has sold five million copies in the United States and makes a wonderful first book for any child's library.

Although Scott Gustafson is a contemporary artist, the illustrations in his Favourite Nursery Rhymes from Mother Goose are reminiscent of those from Fisher Wright's era.

His interpretation of nursery rhymes is fanciful and old-fashioned, but also depicts modern culture by including illustrations of children of different ethnicities.

The rhymes are not printed in full; Gustafson selects a few lines to complement his illustrations. This book with large illustrations but sparse text will be treasured by art lovers.

Any grimace I may make quickly vanishes at the joy of cuddling for story time, as I gamely accept my children's book choices: my elder daughter eyes Pinkalicious and my younger daughter asks for Mother Goose … again.

Annie Ho is board chairwoman of Bring Me A Book Hong Kong, a non-profit organisation dedicate to improving children's literacy by reading aloud to them