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David Booth
Illustrated by Maryann Kovalski
Toronto, Kids Can Press, 1993. 72pp, cloth, $16.95
ISBN 1-55074-079-2. CIP.

For all ages and professional use.

Reviewed by Maryleah Otto.

Volume 21 Number 5
1993 October

This book should be part of the core collection in every Canadian children's library.

David Booth, who has made significant contributions to Canadian children's literature as an educator, editor and lecturer, collaborated with his twelve-year-old son Jay to compile an entertaining collection of current Canadian schoolyard rhymes in English. (Is anyone in French Canada doing the equivalent?)

From the three hundred items they considered, over one hundred were selected for this book. Most were found "in the flesh," so to speak, that is, in playgrounds and schools that the Booths visited personally.

Some were found in assorted reference works, but even these still retain echoes among today's children. There are riddles, tongue-twisters, skip-rope rhymes, chants, ball-bounce rhymes, taunts, nonsense verses, boy-loves-girl rhymes, and so on. Many will be familiar to parents and grandparents even though the words may be slightly altered. Some are truly products of the late twentieth century. Others reveal non-Anglo-Saxon roots.

1 think this book's primary importance is that it deals with the part of the oral tradition that is unique to childhood. Like other genres of literature that exist almost exclusively in spoken language, the play-rhymes of school-children are fleeting fancies, constantly evolving, changing with the speaker from day to day, neighbourhood to neighbourhood. Thus are many lost before anyone writes them down. Yet there is also a stubborn tenacity about them that never quite lets them die, even though their reincarnations may be born in forms that mirror time and place.

Like fairy tales, these seemingly "simple" jabberings from the private club of Child­hood contain many timeless, universal truths that are necessary in the maturation process. Therefore, David Booth and Kids Can Press have achieved two goals at the same time, first by creating a book that will be enormous fun for all ages, and secondly by adding a new tool for historical research in the field of children's literature.

The first part of this goal would never have been possible without the wonderful black-and-white drawings by popular illustrator Maryann Kovalski. Every page is filled with comical, whimsical, fanciful sketches that children will instantly understand. Pan of the visual appeal of the book lies in the imagina­tive use of different fonts for the text and in the innovative placement of the selections on the pages.

There is a bibliography, an index of first lines, and a subject index to the rhymes. Doctor Knickerbocker is an all-round winner. For all ages and professional use.

Highly recommended.

Maryleah Otto is a children's author and librarian in St. Thomas, Ontario.
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