Nursery rhymes are important throughout the early years. Bryant and Bradley’s research into children’s reading problems highlighted the importance of early experience with rhyme. Many nursery rhymes use half rhyme rather than full rhyme, and early exposure to them helps develop an ear for reading and provides the foundation for later phoneme discrimination. Some children may have a rhyme repertoire of up to 500 nursery rhymes when they start school. If you think that sounds like a lot, you’d be surprised at how quickly the bank of rhymes builds. Of course, some have very few, and it’s, therefore, essential that this experience is built in the early years. Action rhymes are particular early years favourite, encouraging coordination, enhancing memory and promoting collective enjoyment. Picture book poetry is a popular choice. We have chosen books with bouncy rhymes and some that are quiet and reflective so you can pick at the poem that suits your mood or the time of day.
Individual books and curated collections are available from our bookselling partner Best Books for Schools.
The book selection for our recommended reading lists is overseen by Just Imagine Director Nikki Gamble, a former teacher and university lecturer, co-author of Guiding Readers and author of Exploring Children’s Literature. The views of our review panel inform our choices. The panel is convened and edited by Jo Bowers, a former teacher and university lecturer specialising in literacy and children’s literature.
Our top picks from recent titles
A Dinosaur at the Bus Stop
By Kate Wakeling. Illustrated by Eilidh Muldoon. Published by Otter-Barry Books.
A collection of poems to get you moving. Can you bob like a robin? Or move along like a steam train? You’ll find poems to encourage listening, ‘pick a sound, any sound’. There are poems to encourage empathy, poems to make you laugh and poems about children’s interests. Teachers will appreciate the poems that have curriculum connections such as superheroes or The Great Fire of London.
Blow a Kiss, Catch a Kiss
By Joseph Coelho. Illustrated by Nicola Killen. Published by Andersen Press.
A delightful first poetry book covering many themes. Our reviewer, Anne Bradley writes, ‘Children can join in with actions, sounds, counting and repetition, making it a book that children will want to return to.’
Big Green Crocodile
By Jane Newbery. Illustrated by Carolina Rabei. Published by Otter-Barry Books.
A great big green crocodile lay down for a nap. I lay down beside him until he went…SNAP. The 16 poems in this collection will have children joining in, clapping their hands and stamping their feet. Written by an early years educator and music specialist. This is one book you will want to be able to reach for whenever the mood takes you.
Ready for Spaghetti
By Michael Rosen. Illustrated by Polly Dunbar. Published by Walker Books.
An inspiring collection of wordplay poems for young children, teachers, parents and carers. Michael Rosen’s sense of fun and Polly Dunbar’s illustrations supremely capture a child’s eye view of the world. Listen to Polly talking about the collection In the Reading Corner.
A Nursery Rhyme for Every Night of the Year
By Allie Esiri. Illustrated by Emily Faccini. Published by Macmillan Children;s Books.
This compendium of nursery rhymes includes all the well-known traditional rhymes as well as some new ones to reflect Britain’s diverse culture today. The rhymes are structured around the year, and poems for special days and festivals are included, making this a useful reference collection for teachers. We recommend it for this purpose – to help you grow your repertoire of rhymes. Look at the other nursery rhyme collections in this list for well-loved collections to share with children.
The Dream Train
By Sean Taylor. Illustrated by Anuska Allepuz. Published by Walker Books.
One wonderful thing about poetry is how it can quickly transform a mood. For moments of calm, Sean Taylor’s Dream Train hits the right note. Filled with 30 warm, joyful and atmospheric poems of every kind – from the funny to the gentle, from the surprising to the lyrical – each captures the experience of falling or being asleep in a pure, emotional way and celebrates the wonderful, busy, imaginative minds of little children
Classic and established favourites
Zim Zam Zoom: poems to Read Aloud
By James Carter. Illustrated by Nicola Colton. Published by Otter-Barry Books.
James Carter’s poems to read aloud are great fun for building a sense of community. It’s easy to join in and memorise these child-friendly verses. Shortlisted for the CLiPPA
The Whales on the Bus
By Katrine Chapman. Illustrated by Nick Sharratt. Published by Bloomsbury.
This popular picture book series of new twists on traditional nursery songs can be enjoyed one to one or with a class or group. The format is easy to handle, so leave a copy in the reading corner with some props to encourage children to play and sing independently. Other books in this series include Rumble Rumble Dinosaur, Car Car Truck, Jeep and Go, and Go Pirate Boat.
Mad About Mega Beasts
By Giles Andreae. Illustrated by David Wojtowycz. Published by Hachette.
This book is one of a popular preschool series of picture book poetry titles. Short verses and brightly coloured illustrations make this a good book for sharing one to one or with a group. Other books in the series are Rumble in the Jungle, Commotion in the Ocean, Mad About Minibeasts and Mad About Dinosaurs.
Debi Gliori's Nursery Rhymes
By Debi Gliori. Illustrated by Debi Gliori. Published by Dorling kindersely.
A treasury of nursery rhymes for children featuring 50 classic and favourite rhymes, to be read again and again. Read and sing along with your little one as you introduce them to well-known nursery rhymes including Humpty Dumpty, Incy Wincy Spider, Little Bo-Peep, and many more. Debi Gliori’s illustrations are warm and cosy. An appealing collection for young children.
The Jackie Morris Book of Classic Nursery Rhymes
By Jackie Morris. Illustrated by Jackie Morris. Published by Otter-Barry Books.
. The beautiful and detailed watercolour paintings combine with over 40 rhymes in this sumptuous collection. It’s a gift to be treasured and will be enjoyed as much by adults as children. A book for sharing.
A Great Big Cuddle
By Michael Rosen. Illustrated by Chris Riddell. Published by Walker Books.
Micahel Rosen and Chris Riddell join forces in this pitch-perfect collection of rhymes for pre-school children. This book won the CLiPPA Award in 2016