The best nursery rhyme books

8 authors have picked their favorite books about nursery rhyme and why they recommend each book.

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Good Night, Sleep Tight

By Mem Fox, Judy Horacek (illustrator),

Book cover of Good Night, Sleep Tight

We adore this book and know it all off by heart! Our 2.5 year old can often be spotted sitting ‘reading’ this book to herself, reciting the poems! The simple repetitive story tells the tale of a babysitter (Skinny Doug – although for some reason he has always been known as Lanky Dave in our house!) singing nursery rhymes to Bonnie and Ben, the children he is looking after. Such a lovely book to share and we have even added in our own extra nursery rhymes for the picture of the moon at the end. Judy Horacek’s bright and cheerful and inclusive artwork makes this a family classic.


Who am I?

With our 2.5-year-old we read all the time. She is a great critic, letting us know if the book is to be read ‘again’ or to be put ‘away!’ As well as a PhD in Education, I am also a trained teacher, having worked with preschoolers running Steiner Waldorf inspired parent and child groups and playgroups, so I am fascinated by the power of story. I try and choose books that are inclusive and age-appropriate, keeping the child in a magical space, as well as allowing for lots of laughs! I also love to share books that I am happy to read three times in a row!


I wrote...

Searching for the Ideal School Around the World: School Tourism and Performative Autoethnographic-We

By Alys Mendus,

Book cover of Searching for the Ideal School Around the World: School Tourism and Performative Autoethnographic-We

What is my book about?

This book shares the nomadology of Alys-we searching for the Ideal School. Fed up with the System, traditional mainstream education directed by neoliberalism, and high-stakes testing, I travelled to over 180 places of learning/schools in 23 countries that were educating differently. Through performative autoethnographic-we, I share these embodied experiences in poems, vignettes, journaling, and ethnodrama. I realised that the Ideal School is an oxymoron and that schools and schooling, even within innovative education, are not the future for learning.

By sharing stories from the ‘gems’ that currently exist in places of learning/schools, there is the potential and hope for a paradigm shift. Read this book to follow my journey as I share stories and trouble different innovative pedagogies (including Steiner Waldorf, Progressive, Democratic, and Montessori).

The Fourth Bear

By Jasper Fforde,

Book cover of The Fourth Bear

The Fourth Bear is possibly too light to be included in a list of dark fairytales, but the main character is a classic, almost noir type detective, so maybe it's ok. Nursery Crime Division, to be exact. I think Jasper Fforde may be to blame for my desire to write Jack and the Beanstalk as a dark gritty courtroom drama (maybe one day!), he blends genres together so seamlessly, and I long to be able to do it as well as he does. There's a terrifying serial killer on the loose, and I was as on the edge of my seat as I am with any thriller, even though I knew that killer was The Gingerbread Man. It follows the plot of a standard police procedural/thriller, while including Punch and Judy, Goldilocks, an illegal porridge ring, and a murderous biscuit....or is The Gingerbread Man a cake? I absolutely adore the…


Who am I?

GK Chesterton reportedly said that "fairytales are more than true: not because they teach us that dragons are real, but because they teach us dragons can be beaten." This rings true to me; I've been fascinated by the darker side of fairytales since childhood, when I used them to escape and make sense of my own dark experiences. Stories that began as oral traditions are my favourite, a blend of entertainment for long nights around a fire, and cautionary tales that teach us to fear the wolf, and beware of that which seems too good to be true. Old stories teach us what it means to be human. I hope you enjoy these.


I wrote...

Once Upon A Twisted Fairytale

By Victoria Pearson,

Book cover of Once Upon A Twisted Fairytale

What is my book about?

What if Red Riding Hood's grandmother didn't want to be saved? What if Cinderella's prince was actually a bit of a creep? What exactly was Prince Charming doing kissing a girl he found in a coffin anyway? Find out why you should always be careful what you wish for, why you shouldn't trust Hansel and Gretel just because they look sweet, and why you really don't want to displease Mr. Elffe.

Grab some iron to protect you from the Shining Ones, some salt to throw in the face of the fairies, and see what happened once upon a twisted fairytale...

Mother Ghost

By Rachel Kolar, Roland Garrigue (illustrator),

Book cover of Mother Ghost: Nursery Rhymes for Little Monsters

This book is so darn cute! I love the fresh takes on familiar nursery rhymes. I always chuckle when I read the clever new twists (which are only a little spooky). The illustrations are a teeny bit scary, but mostly super cute. When you read this book, you can go all the way through, or just pick one nursery rhyme at a time to chant with the kids. 


Who am I?

I am a huge fan of Halloween and love decorating my porch to greet our neighborhood kids. This past year I gave away a couple dozen copies of my own picture books along with candy, which was a huge hit. I live in Baltimore with my family, including my silly, spooky kid, and love animals, especially dogs and horses. This past Halloween, my daughter wanted to dress up as a dentist, of all things, so my husband and I went along dressed up as giant teeth. She never got the irony of asking for candy while dressed as a dentist. We’ll have to wait until she is older for that. 


I wrote...

Trick or Treat, Bugs to Eat

By Tracy C. Gold, Nancy Leschnikoff (illustrator),

Book cover of Trick or Treat, Bugs to Eat

What is my book about?

An adorable rhyming Halloween book with educational nonfiction elements woven in, perfect for classrooms and libraries!

Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me lots of bugs to eat! Follow along as a young bat takes flight on Halloween night and eats lots of delicious bugs along the way! Includes educational back matter with lots of fun facts about bats and their favorite insects.

Monster Goose

By Judy Sierra, Jack E. Davis (illustrator),

Book cover of Monster Goose

Judy Sierra, author of Wild About Books, is a brilliant rhymer. With a spot-on meter, witty wordplay, and humor, she creates enchanting poems. Monster Goose is a hilarious, slightly eerie but fun poetry collection featuring well-known nursery rhyme characters. The short verses, some of which are a bit gory, are sure to elicit some playful “yuks” and “eews.” Jack E. Davis’s illustrations are a  perfect match with their googly-eyed, silly characters. 


Who am I?

Born in Poland, I have fond memories of sitting on my Grandma’s lap listening to stories and poems. A favorite poem was about a crow who ate Swiss cheese and only left the holes. The concept made my noggin spin and spurred my imagination. When I immigrated to the U.S. at age seven, I learned English by reading a Mother Goose collection. Captivated by the fun rhyming sounds and art, I dreamed of making children’s books someday. Years later, my dream came true, I became an author/illustrator, with the majority of my books being extensions of the nursery rhymes which inspired me when I was a child. 


I wrote...

Haunted Party

By Iza Trapani,

Book cover of Haunted Party

What is my book about?

Count up and down for Halloween fun!

This humorous book invites readers to count eerie party guests one through ten as they arrive at the haunted house of their ghostly host. Mummies and monsters, werewolves and witches, vampires, and ghouls show up group by group to round out the festivities. These classic creatures party the night away, but when the guests are frightened by a group of young trick-or-treaters, readers count backward as they depart. A surprise ending offers a delightfully spooky twist.

My Very Own Nursery Rhymes

By Thea Hay, Patricia Pessoa (illustrator),

Book cover of My Very Own Nursery Rhymes

I love this personalized book for babies and toddlers because it teaches them classic nursery rhymes, but with a twist. Mother Goose tells a story about how nursery rhyme characters spell out your child’s name. For example, if your child’s name is Olivia, “Old Mother Hubbard” brings the O, “Li’l Jack Horner” brings the L, the “Itsy Bitsy Spider” brings the I, and so on, until your child’s name is spelled out in rhyme. At the end of the story, there’s a glossary that includes classic nursery rhymes for your child to learn.


Who am I?

Maia Haag is the president and co-founder of I See Me! Personalized Books & Gifts. She had the idea to write her own personalized children’s book while on maternity leave. She and her husband, who is a graphic designer, published My Very Own Name, which launched their company. Maia has written over ten engaging, uniquely personalized stories that make each child feel special. She’s even written a personalized book for dog lovers If My Dog Could Talk—based on her own family pet!


I wrote...

My Very Own Name

By Maia Haag,

Book cover of My Very Own Name

What is my book about?

Animals bring letters one by one to create the child’s first and last name in rhyme! A jackal brings a J, an ostrich brings an O, until the child’s full name is spelled out. Each time the family reads the book, they’ll see a printed message from the gift giver and a photo of the child on the first page. The book also includes an illustrated encyclopedia with fun facts about 61 different kinds of animals! It’s a beautifully personalized book to welcome a new baby, teach children to learn their names, and soothe little ones at bedtime. This was Maia Haag’s first personalized children’s book that launched her company. 

The Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon

By Mini Grey,

Book cover of The Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon

The author/illustrator of the truly hilarious Traction man is here! answers the burning question I know I have always had: what happened after the dish and spoon ran away? Spirited illustration and a rollicking storyline imagine the fate of the runaway kitchenware, leading to a final redemption after many wild adventures. A reminder that peripheral characters can have complex lives too.


Who am I?

I love the experience of reading a book that combines a known (to me or not!) story combined with elements that make it new again. It could be a parody, a “fractured fairy tale,” or a new retelling, funny or serious. For my book Little Red and the Cat Who Loved Cake, I read so many nursery rhymes and fairy tales in order to populate the town with fun versions of recognizable characters for Little Red to encounter, it makes me appreciate these books even more.


I wrote...

Little Red and the Cat Who Loved Cake

By Barbara Lehman,

Book cover of Little Red and the Cat Who Loved Cake

What is my book about?

A highly visual fractured-fairy-tale retelling of Little Red Riding Hood (and a cat who loves cake) from Caldecott Honor–winner Barbara Lehman. With simple picture bubbles and pictograms, this is perfect for budding graphic novel readers. This playful retelling of a beloved classic is a visual delight, with references to other fairy tales hidden throughout Lehman's inviting illustrations. Master of the wordless picture book, Lehman tells a rich story using only pictures, perfect for teaching visual literacy and for young graphic novel enthusiasts.

What Are Little Girls Made Of?

By Jeanne Willis, Isabelle Follath (illustrator),

Book cover of What Are Little Girls Made Of?

I found that many of the nursery rhymes in this book are very familiar, except…something is a little different. Georgie Porgie is no longer kissing the girls and making them cry, Little Miss Muffett is a heck of a lot tougher, and Mary, Mary quite contrary is embracing her right to change her mind. That’s right, these classic mini-stories have been revamped to have the female characters taking charge and living their best lives. Some nursery rhymes can be outdated and upsetting, but I say "don’t throw the baby out with the bath water." I think keeping the things about nursery rhymes that promote early literacy but changing up the words to reflect our values is a very cool way to carry the old rhymes into this century.


Who am I?

I love getting lost in books because I get to experience more adventures than I could possibly fit into one lifetime. Books invite the exploration of limitless possibilities—for everyone. When a book can fire my imagination, make me feel a connection, or just make me think deeplythat’s magic, whether it was meant to be fiction or not. I want to write books that do that for others. For this list specifically, I wanted to pick books that encourage girls to embrace the notions that they are allowed to dream really big dreams, that the goals they set for themselves are worth pursuing, and that we all deserve room to be our authentic selves.


I wrote...

Strut, Baby, Strut

By Amika Kroll, Ebony Glenn (illustrator),

Book cover of Strut, Baby, Strut

What is my book about?

From baby to toddler to big girl to teen to young lady, and finally, a confident woman, this lyrical, rhyming story teaches little girls to reach high, be bold, and love big at any and every stage of their life. Full of inspiring life lessons every parent strives to teach their child from day one, this story, written for little girls everywhere, is about growing up, loving yourself, and embracing your womanhood.

The Three Pigs

By David Wiesner,

Book cover of The Three Pigs

This is a very meta version of The Three Pigs, which goes on to additionally be a meta version of a book experience. First, we see the wolf blow a pig right out of the story panel border, and then everything really implodes conceptually from there. The pigs then regroup in a non-book void, despite still being in the book we are holding, and from there devise a plan to return to their original story with a wolf-proof reinforcement they got from a different story. Sounds wild? It is.


Who am I?

I love the experience of reading a book that combines a known (to me or not!) story combined with elements that make it new again. It could be a parody, a “fractured fairy tale,” or a new retelling, funny or serious. For my book Little Red and the Cat Who Loved Cake, I read so many nursery rhymes and fairy tales in order to populate the town with fun versions of recognizable characters for Little Red to encounter, it makes me appreciate these books even more.


I wrote...

Little Red and the Cat Who Loved Cake

By Barbara Lehman,

Book cover of Little Red and the Cat Who Loved Cake

What is my book about?

A highly visual fractured-fairy-tale retelling of Little Red Riding Hood (and a cat who loves cake) from Caldecott Honor–winner Barbara Lehman. With simple picture bubbles and pictograms, this is perfect for budding graphic novel readers. This playful retelling of a beloved classic is a visual delight, with references to other fairy tales hidden throughout Lehman's inviting illustrations. Master of the wordless picture book, Lehman tells a rich story using only pictures, perfect for teaching visual literacy and for young graphic novel enthusiasts.

The Tunnel

By Anthony Browne,

Book cover of The Tunnel

This contemporary retelling of Little Red Riding Hood is moody and pensive, and very unique. It is not humorous, and it is definitely weird - but I find myself having a lasting affection for this strange retelling. In it, two fractious siblings travel via portal (the tunnel) from an urban setting into a forest filled with haunting suggestions of fairy tale imagery. They are forced to face internal challenges in order to escape back to their home, which then changes their relationship roles to each other.


Who am I?

I love the experience of reading a book that combines a known (to me or not!) story combined with elements that make it new again. It could be a parody, a “fractured fairy tale,” or a new retelling, funny or serious. For my book Little Red and the Cat Who Loved Cake, I read so many nursery rhymes and fairy tales in order to populate the town with fun versions of recognizable characters for Little Red to encounter, it makes me appreciate these books even more.


I wrote...

Little Red and the Cat Who Loved Cake

By Barbara Lehman,

Book cover of Little Red and the Cat Who Loved Cake

What is my book about?

A highly visual fractured-fairy-tale retelling of Little Red Riding Hood (and a cat who loves cake) from Caldecott Honor–winner Barbara Lehman. With simple picture bubbles and pictograms, this is perfect for budding graphic novel readers. This playful retelling of a beloved classic is a visual delight, with references to other fairy tales hidden throughout Lehman's inviting illustrations. Master of the wordless picture book, Lehman tells a rich story using only pictures, perfect for teaching visual literacy and for young graphic novel enthusiasts.

The Skin You Live in

By Michael Tyler, David Lee Csicsko (illustrator),

Book cover of The Skin You Live in

Any book that represents red-headed & freckled boys as well as kids with “warm cocoa dream skin” was a hit with my kids when they were young as they saw themselves and would shout “That’s me!”. The easy rhyme and adorable art help this story share the important message of acceptance, diversity, and inclusion to young readers. Children will recognize their family members, friends, and themselves in the “wonderful hues” decorating every page.


Who am I?

As the white parent of both a white child and a child of color, the discrepancies of representation and inclusivity in children’s literature is an important conversation in our home. Seeing themselves in books allows all children to dream big, feel seen, and know there is a place in this world for them. I hope both of my books, All Bears Need Love and Little Taco Truck do exactly that. I know the list of brilliant books I’ve suggested here are wonderful examples of inclusivity and diversity that young readers need.


I wrote...

Little Taco Truck

By Tanya Valentine, Jorge Martin (illustrator),

Book cover of Little Taco Truck

What is my book about?

Little Taco Truck serves up tasty treats to the hungry workers on Union Street. But when Miss Falafel arrives and parks in his space, Little Taco Truck's headlights dim. What if people like falafel more than tacos?When Jumbo Gumbo, Annie’s Arepas, and Hello Gelato arrive, there's no space left for Little Taco Truck. He swishes his wipers to hide his tears and heads home. At last, with some ingenuity and help from new friends, Little Taco Truck wins back his coveted parking spot. And guess what? There is room enough for everyone!

Packed with flavor and savory smells, this irresistible read-aloud about inclusion, determination, and friendship is perfect for even the youngest truck and taco fans.

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