31 Days, 31 Lists: 2020 Rhyming Picture Books
What’s that advice people always give to folks that want to write their first books for kids. Ah, yes. Never ever ever make them rhyme! Some of the worst books you’ll ever read are rhyming picture books that strain and fail to look effortless. But that’s not say they can never be done. An adept picture book is one where the rhymes are so natural and effervescent that you seriously couldn’t imagine the book any other way. But we’re not all Dr. Seuss, people. If you’re going to commit to rhyming then you better be pretty darn sure of your own abilities. To that end, today I celebrate those picture books that embrace their rhyme schemes to their fullest. I’m still going to suggest to people to avoid rhyming whenever possible, but if you have to do it, do it like these folks!
2020 Rhyming Picture Books
After Squidnight by Jonathan E. Fenske
Hey, look! It’s your old pal, Jonathan Fenske. In this odd little number, kids are warned that while they sleep squids can invade their homes, draw all over the house in ink, and the kids will end up shouldering the blame. Remember Slugs by David Greenberg and Victoria Chess? It’s like that, only with less body horror. I kind of love the notion that squids are basically the Banksys of the sea. It’s a nice balance between creepy and amusing. Plus the Kilroy reference at the end is cute. The rhymes themselves won’t challenge you too dearly, but you still might want to give this a run through before presenting it to a large group. Wouldn’t make a bad Halloween alternative title as well.
Bunnies On the Bus by Philip Ardagh, ill. Ben Mantle
Yeah. I pretty much took one look at that cover and I was on board. Basically, all I want out of this life is books about bunnies run amok. Now this is a British import, and you get a bit of a sense of that in the verse. When a massive brown bunny grabs a good six of them by their ears the text reads, “DO sit down, or you’ll end up in a pile.” Rhyming text keeps it bouncy from page one onward, while the whizzing action and detail-filled pages make for a roaring good time. I had to double back and reread the whole thing just to figure out how the lion got outed as bald by the tabloids at the end. Essentially, this is NOT the wheels on the bus with bunnies. This is what would happen if the Pigeon in Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus actually got ahold of a vehicle . . . and was a rabbit. Madcap, wild, raucous, and perfect for storytimes everywhere.
The Nest That Wren Built by Randi Sonenshine, ill. Anne Hunter
“These are the twigs, dried in the sun, that Papa collected one by one / to cradle the nest that Wren build.” Gentle rhyming text show how wrens construct intricate homes to shelter and protect their eggs. An interesting take on nest building (which appears to be a hot theme in 2020 books for some reason) that, on first glance, appears to be emulating the cumulative tale form. If I have any reservations with this book, it’s that it isn’t really cumulative (or, at least, not in the same way that ‘Ohana Means Family is cumulative). That said, it’s neat! I love how it works in tiny details, like the fact that the wrens might add a spider sac so that the baby spiders eat mites that might hurt the eggs. And who can resist a species where the male makes several nests, the female chooses one, then proceeds to rip it apart and rebuild it from scratch? A woman after my own heart.
Numenia and the Hurricane: Inspired by a True Migration Story by Fiona Halliday
In 2011 a little whimbrel got caught in Tropical Storm Gert off the coast of Nova Scotia, right smack dab in the middle of her migration to the US Virgin Islands. The bird, who was being tracked by scientists from the Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary, survived and inspired Halliday to present the story (fictionalized with a separation and reunion with siblings) in rhyme. It is not without poetry. “Bandit-eyed, / They slip unseen / Through beckoning moors / Of tangled green.” For folks doing a poetry unit, a migration unit, a conservation unit, or even a climate change unit, this could make a darn decent readaloud.
‘Ohana Means Family by Ilima Loomis, ill. Kenard Pak
To make the poi for the ‘ohana lū’au you must first pick the kalo. To pick the kalo you must reach into the mud. To reach into the mud . . . A cumulative tale, gorgeously illustrated, of the people that make a Hawaiian lū’au their own. I dig this. It’s a cumulative story in the vein of The House That Jack Built. Now cumulative tales are not all created equal. Some are privy to a lyrical form of writing that works with the natural repetition of the form. And darned if Ms. Loomis hasn’t mastered it. I kept flipping back to her bio at the end of the book to see if she’d done other things I’d seen in the past, but nope. This is her first book, as far as I can tell. Kenard Pak may have finally found an author worthy of his talents. Plus, it’s hard to resist lines like, “This is the wind on which stories are told, that lifts the rain to the valley fold, that feeds the stream of sunlit gold, flooding the land that’s never been sold . . .”
Shape Up, Construction Trucks! by Victoria Allenby
Hey, shape books are math books too. And if you’re gonna go all out, why not just throw a couple construction vehicles into the mix? Allenby’s book is almost too good for its very simple premise. Essentially, you’re just looking at some (remarkably detailed, high-resolution) photos of construction equipment and finding the natural shapes in them. And just to up the ante, it rhymes. As the Kirkus review pointed out, you could do a whole storytime and sing this book to the “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” song (which I always did with Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?) and make a whole construction production out of it!
Want to see other lists? Check out what happened this month!
December 1 – Great Board Books
December 2 – Board Book Reprints & Adaptations
December 3 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books
December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Funny Picture Books
December 7 – CaldeNotts
December 8 – Picture Book Reprints
December 9 – Math Books for Kids
December 10 – Bilingual Books
December 11 – Books with a Message
December 12 – Fabulous Photography
December 13 – Translated Picture Books
December 14 – Fairy Tales / Folktales / Religious Tales
December 15 – Wordless Picture Books
December 16 – Poetry Books
December 17 – Unconventional Children’s Books
December 18 – Easy Books & Early Chapter Books
December 19 – Comics & Graphic Novels
December 20 – Older Funny Books
December 21 – Science Fiction Books
December 22 – Fantasy Books
December 23 – Informational Fiction
December 24 – American History
December 25 – Science & Nature Books
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Books for Older Readers
December 29 – Best Audiobooks for Kids
December 30 – Middle Grade Novels
December 31 – Picture Books
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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