The best children’s rhyming picture book texts

Patricia Cleveland-Peck Author Of You Can't Let an Elephant Drive a Racing Car
By Patricia Cleveland-Peck

Who am I?

I am passionately keen on poetry of many types because, whether rhyming or not, most poetry employs rhythm which is something that has a subconscious appeal to human senses. For children, rhyme provides an easy introduction to poetry and I enjoy using it because children themselves love it. Mums tell me that they are asked to read the same book time and time again – and not to try to skip any spreads! At the age of three, before she could read, my son’s goddaughter knew the whole of You Can’t Take an Elephant on the Bus by heart. The rhymes children hear when very young remain with them, sometimes forever. 


I wrote...

You Can't Let an Elephant Drive a Racing Car

By Patricia Cleveland-Peck, David Tazzyman (illustrator),

Book cover of You Can't Let an Elephant Drive a Racing Car

What is my book about?

This is the fifth book and latest in the series which began with You Can’t Take an Elephant on the Bus. These are rhyming books about a gang of silly animals who want to be helpful, do exciting things and excel at things like sports but always get things wrong and end up creating crazy, chaotic situations. This is something most children and quite a number of adults feel. Usually the animals end up having fun in spite of their failings – after all, they meant well.

The whacky illustrations by David Tazzyman aptly portray this …in a way that never fails to make children laugh and adults smile.

The books I picked & why

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The Gruffalo

By Julia Donaldson, Axel Scheffler (illustrator),

Book cover of The Gruffalo

Why this book?

Julia Donaldson is the supremo of rhyming. I am certainly not the only writer she has inspired. All her books are really well crafted and the fact that she is a singer and very musical can be felt by reading her exemplary rhyme.  

I recommend this book, the first which made her name in this genre, because it has all the qualities of a best rhyming text. It tells a story to which children can relate, is never boring, and has an unerring and satisfying beat.


Momma, Will You?

By Dori Chaconas,

Book cover of Momma, Will You?

Why this book?

This is another quite different type of book which has taught me a lot about rhythm, how impelling it can be, and how a refrain can be used to advantage. Proceeding at a jaunty tempo here the boy frames his questions to his mother throughout the book with 3 possible answers, ‘Yes, or no or maybe.’

"Momma will you feed the hen?
Yes or no or maybe?
Scatter corn a round the pen.
You and me and baby?
To which the mum replies, in this case in the affirmative
Yes, we’ll feed the speckled hen
Scratching in the dew
Then she’ll lay two speckled eggs.
One for each of you."

This book has a memorable rhythm, good rhyme and it takes you into the world of the child and the mother. It finishes at the end of the day with the boy going to sleep which gives it the bonus of being a good bedtime book.


Oi Cat!

By Kes Gray, Jim Field (illustrator),

Book cover of Oi Cat!

Why this book?

This is the sort of nonsense book which I absolutely love. It is one of a series that began with Oi Frog. The books all defy the usual advice that picture books, whether rhyming or not, need a proper story. In these books the only concern of the animal characters is on what they should sit. Here rhyme is king. The sillier the better, "dingoes sit on flamingos," "hogs sit on clogs," etc. They are all great fun but this is my favourite because I love the cat and her sarcastic asides.

This book is simply fun and will make children laugh.


Giraffes Can't Dance

By Giles Andreae, Guy Parker-Rees (illustrator),

Book cover of Giraffes Can't Dance

Why this book?

"Gerald was a tall giraffe
Whose neck was long and slim
But his knees were awfully bandy
And his legs were rather thin."

It is Gerald’s story but in fact, my favourite spread is the one which shows (brilliant artwork here) the other animal dancers

"The wart hogs started waltzing
And the rhinos rock ‘n’ rolled
The lions danced a tango
Which was elegant and bolded
The chimps all did a cha-cha
With a very Latin feel
And eight baboons then teamed up for a splendid Scottish reel."

And of course in the end Gerald astonishes them all having had some advice on rhythm from a friendly cricket.

I recommend this book not only for its rhythm and rhyme but for its implication that if you try hard you can do more than you think. Also for its lovely flowing illustrations.


Schnitzel von Krumm’s Basketwork

By Lynley Dodd,

Book cover of Schnitzel von Krumm’s Basketwork

Why this book?

Lynley Dodd is another master rhymer famous for her series about the scruffy dog Hairy McLary from Donaldson’s Dairy. I though, particularly like Schnitzel on Krumm, the daschund, and fell under the spell of this book the first time I heard it read:

"Tucked in a hideyhole
Under the stir
Lay a rickety basket
In need of repair; a chewed up old cushion,
A blanket all worn
Everything broken
And smelly and torn
And
Under that blanket his paws on his tum
Happily snoring
Lay Schnitzel von Krumm."

His owners are determined to give him a clean new basket but does he like the things they offer? The refrain "No not a bit" runs through the book until at last, he gets his old smelly blanket back.

I recommend this book because it is warm and funny and is a story to which children, who hate being separated from their comforters, can easily relate.


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