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Little Miss Muffet

by Trad. nursery rhymes, Heather Collins, illus.

Hey Diddle Diddle

by Trad. nursery rhymes, Heather Collins, illus.

Jack and Jill

by Trad. nursery rhymes, Heather Collins, illus.

Pat-a-cake

by Trad. nursery rhymes, Heather Collins, illus.

These four cheery titles are the newest in a series of nursery rhyme board books by veteran Toronto illustrator Heather Collins. Each traditional rhyme is given its own little book of sturdily bound boards, which should stand up to enthusiastic handling – even chewing – by toddlers. The cast of characters continues throughout the series, so the piglets who run off with the dish and spoon in Hey Diddle Diddle reappear tumbling downhill in Jack and Jill, and the spider who resolutely went back up the waterspout in Eensy Weensy Spider (an earlier title) returns to startle Little Miss Muffet.

All these nursery rhyme characters are presented as stuffed animals, with friendly faces and cuddly round bodies. While some educators over the years have reproached nursery rhymes for their violent and anxiety-provoking elements, Collins’ treatment of these verses brings out only their fun and nonsense. Miss Muffet’s spider is no alarming beast but a plump, overalled fellow wearing different-coloured running shoes on his eight chubby legs, and a backwards baseball cap above his smiling face. When Miss Muffet runs off, he tucks into the curds and whey. Unlike some nursery rhyme books, these ones don’t attempt to tell a real story through the pictures, but do contain little jokes like this. Collins interprets the words in a light-hearted manner: when Jill comes “tumbling after” Jack, she is not following him in a painful fall but tumbling about with laughter at his minor mishap.

Only slightly larger than the Beatrix Potter books, Collins’ nursery rhymes echo Potter’s intent to provide “little books for little hands.” These are, indeed, a pleasant introduction to the world of books.