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Review: Nursery Rhyme Comics

Nursery Rhyme Comics
By Various Authors, Chris Duffy, Leonard S. Marcus
First Second Books (Macmillan)
ISBN: 9781596436008
Grades 1-4
In Stores October 11, 2011

It’s no secret we are living in the age of superstar team-ups. With Watch the Throne on the top of the Billboard charts, The Miami Heat making waves in the NBA, and The Avengers one of the most highly anticipated films of 2012, it’s hard to say otherwise. The beautiful Nursery Rhyme Comics is a superstar team-up of a different kind. No less than 50 of our best cartoonists and illustrators have contributed their interpretations of classic (and a number of lesser-known) nursery rhymes. While this collection may prompt you to reexamine your concept of audience, Nursery Rhyme Comics is a unique endeavor brimming with creativity.

After a short introduction by children’s book historian Leonard S. Marcus, things get rolling with Patrick McDonnell’s comic take on The Donkey, a four line ditty that I likely haven’t heard since nursery school:

Donkey, donkey, old and gray,

Ope your mouth and gently bray;

Lift your ears and blow your horn,

To wake the world this sleepy morn.

The accompanying illustrations show a seemingly glum donkey coming to life and blowing a saxophone solo, shocking a nearby bird. This opening cartoon makes something very clear: it’s all in the interpretation. What follows is a murderer’s row of cartoonists and illustrators, each playing by their own rules. Jules Feiffer turns in one of the more literal entries with Girls and Boys Come Out to Play, Eleanor Davis’s retelling of The Queen of Harts fits with her detailed Secret Science Alliance M.O., James Sturm gets cheeky with Jack Be Nimble, and if you can show me a more absurd  take on One, Two, Buckle My Shoe than the one by Dave Roman, I’ll give you a pat on the back, then proceed to eat my wicker hat. The roster is impressively varied, the results almost always interesting.

Paging through the book is an experience unto itself, as the variety of styles – all rendered in full color – are a striking sight.

The concept of audience can be a tricky thing at times. Catering to your audience is often viewed in a negative light, but not taking the assumed reader into consideration also draws ire. Nursery Rhyme Comics may fall into the latter camp for some, as many of the comics will be most successful with 1st-4th graders rather than the standard preschool/kindergarten Mother Goose crowd. The paradox is that many nursery rhymes contain themes that already go over the heads of the PreK set.

Another interesting side effect of this wildly interpretive cartoon overhaul is that it sometimes moves the story away from the familiarity of a song. Occasionally this is due to inserted dialog, but it is mostly due to the fact that reading a comic requires pauses to absorb the artwork. Long story short, it feels a bit weird to read There Was a Crooked Man or Hush, Little Baby without the familiar tempo. While this is part of the uniqueness of the book, it does adds a layer of sophistication that will work best with slightly older readers.

So here’s my recommendation: Nursery Rhyme Comics shouldn’t be a child’s introduction to the genre, but consider this a wholly original next step.

Review copy from publisher

Find this book at your local library with WorldCat.

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. want!

  2. In Baker & Taylor, the audience for this book is listed as Toddlers, Ages 2-4. I agree with you, that this is a book for older kids. So, where is one supposed to put it in the collection? Graphic novels?

    And why do publishers keep doing this–putting out unique, lovely, hybrid books with no real concept of who the audience really is? I suppose that’s where librarians and booksellers come in. But the board book versions of Romeo & Juliet and Pride and Prejudice, and hipster picture books such as It’s a Book and Zombie in Love, while enjoyable, really trouble me when it comes to their intended audience: meaning, who are these books really for?

    [ramble ramble unfinished thoughts ramble]

    • This book really does make you question the whole audience aspect. I’ll be shelving it in graphic novels.

  3. Hmm is anyone else having problems with the images on this blog loading?

    I’m trying to figure out if its a problem on my end or if it’s the blog.
    Any feed-back would be greatly appreciated.