'Out of the gate, and off for a walk, went Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy.' It’s possible that this is the most famous line of any NZ picture book, thanks to Hairy’s superstar status in the UK. Dame Lynley Dodd is deservedly a favourite author for many. But there are other Kiwis doing it just as well!
The joy of a perfectly rhyming picture book, that flows and grows without repeating words or inserting syllables, is indescribable. I’ve been known to be moved to tears. Here's a baker's dozen that I recommend. Many of these authors are well-known in New Zealand, with big backlists: check them out.
Illustration by Sarah Davis from Toucan Can
Duck’s Stuck, by Kyle Mewburn, illustrated by Ali Teo and John O’Reilly (Scholastic NZ, 2008)
When you can recite a picture book by heart, this is usually the sign of a very strong rhyme game. 'Duck waddled, Duck sat / Duck ate grass, duck napped…' My second child learned this rhythm on the boob, and still requests it from time to time. Both my husband and I can recite it without reading from the book. This is a story in the fairytale tradition which has lasted, and the book remains in print 10 years later. (Age 0+) Buy Now
The Rain Train, by Elena de Roo and Brian Lovelock (Walker Books, 2010) - still available as a board book
'Over the viaducts rhooshity-rish, Racing the moon Swishety-swish'. The rhyme in The Rain Train builds and builds until whoosh we are flying down the tracks through the night. I recommend this book whenever I can, as a gentle bedtime story with a brilliant pace and inventive use of rhyme. Both my sons have loved it, and it is a fantastic read-aloud which isn’t too long even for small babies. (0+) Buy Now
Roadworks, Demolition and Construction, by Sally Sutton and Brian Lovelock (Walker Books) – available now in a box set.
'Load the dirt. Load the dirt. / Scoop and swing and drop. / Slam it down into the truck. / Bump! Whump! Whomp!' These are must-haves for the machine-mad child. The sheer joy of onomatopoeia keeps both kids and parents entertained. It is such an easy, swinging book to read aloud, the hundreds of repeats will barely make you flinch. (Ages 2-6) Buy Now
My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes, by Eve Sutton, illustrated by Lynley Dodd (Puffin, 1982)
The repetition of rhyming couplets lend this book a magic that’s hard to beat. The build and build that happens as you read the book aloud sees the kids start to join in, so by the final line we're all shouting: 'The cat from Spain flew an aeroplane... But my cat likes to hide in boxes.' Everybody loves a good cat book, and this is a bona fide Kiwi classic. (Age 0+) Buy Now
Bubble Trouble, by Margaret Mahy (latest ed. Puffin, 2010)
Picture books by Mahy are a joy, and you really can’t miss with her early work. Bubble Trouble has a pretty complex rhyme scheme, so be warned: if you are sleepy, your tongue may get a little trippy. But not only is the rhyme thrilling, the story is captivating. The urgency ramps up as Mabel, Mum and the whole town chase Baby in a bubble to the church steeple. 'But Mabel, Tybal, Greville and the jogger (christened Neville) / Didn’t quiver, didn’t quaver, didn’t drivel, shrivel, wilt. / But as one they made a swivel, and with action (firm but civil) / They divested Mrs Threeble of her pretty patchwork quilt.' (2+) Buy Now
The King’s Bubbles, by Ruth Paul (Scholastic NZ, 2007)
When she won the Children’s Choice award at the NZ Post Book Awards in 2008 for this book, Ruth Paul reckoned it was because there was a bare bum in it. But I think it’s because it's a great story which is fun to read aloud. The King wants to keep all his bubbles safe, and he tasks his three advisors with it. There is some amazing artwork in this book, particularly on the page which features this line: 'They rushed to his bidding, they planned it with care, / they schemed up a scheme to circulate air. / In with the bubbles and most-treasured things / went five hundred butterflies flapping their wings.' (2+) Buy Now
Toucan Can, by Juliette MacIver and Sarah Davis (Gecko Press, 2013)
'Look! Now Toucan / has a NEW plan. / With the fry pan / and a stew pan, / he can juggle / one-hand, two-hand / while he cancans / on a fruit-can!' Toucan is the wildest, most exuberant bird in the jungle. When I read this on its release, I thought Dr Seuss. Back then I was a baby book reviewer and a bit cautious, now I’m more confident in saying it – MacIver is the real deal. She is one of our rhyme queens, and this is one of her best (as well as the one below...). (Ages 3-7) Buy Now
Marmaduke Duck and the Marmalade Jam (and series), by Juliette MacIver and Sarah Davis (Scholastic NZ)
This was the first book from Juliette MacIver, introducing her most enduring character, Marmaduke Duck. My No. 2 son adores these books for their wicked rhyme and their sense of fun. Early on in our bedtime story tradition, my husband would bags reading this one too, for its rap-like feel in the mouth as you tell the unfortunate tale of the duck whose jam was stolen by a naughty llama. Alex insists on saying, 'The llama made marmalade marmalade jam...' himself every time. (Ages 3-8) Buy Now
Piggity-Wiggity Jiggity Jig, by Diana Neild, illustrated by Phillip Webb (Scholastic NZ, 2008)
'Piggity-Wiggity Jiggity Jig is a long sort of name for a short sort of pig.' Diana Neild has one of the strongest, most innate senses of inner rhyme of any author I know. Like Julia Donaldson, her background is music, and it shows in this flawless book from 2008. One of the best rhythmic books out there, this is the first in a series about Piggity, with his slightly awkward name. A huge favourite for Dan, age 3, fair warning it is a little long when you have a small baby; one to keep up your sleeve for the right moment. (Ages 3-7) Buy Now
Rustle Up a Rhythm, by Rosalind Malam and Sarah Nelisiwe Anderson (Scholastic NZ, 2015)
While a more recent book, and one my kids haven’t had a lot of time with, this is a favourite of mine for the flow of the story, telling about all of the wonderful sounds that make up an ordinary day. 'Bibble bibble bubble, hums my egg from the pot, and the bread in the toaster goes click - click – POP!' The design is playful, and it goes without saying, the rhyme sublime. Malam seems only to have written early readers previously, and I’d love to see more of her work. (Ages 4-8) Buy Now
The House on the Hill, by Kyle Mewburn and Sarah Davis (Scholastic, 2015)
'The gate it gave a weary groan, an ancient sigh of creaking bones, as two ghosts crept, crept all alone, up the path to the house on the hill.' With complex language and tricky rhythms, owing to Edgar Allen Poe, this book took time to grow on me. But it is a delicious read, building inexorably to the spooky conclusion, with matching, sepia-toned illustrations throughout. One to pick up around Hallowe’en. (Ages 4-12) Buy Now
Editor of The Sapling, and Media & Communications Manager at Booksellers NZ. Sarah has worked in the book industry for the past 11 years. She ran the Writers in Schools and other education programmes for the NZ Book Council for 7 years, and knows exactly how awesome our kiwi writers and illustrators are. Sarah is from the West Coast, and lives in Wellington.