Pocketful of Stars: Rhymes, Chants and Lap Games.
Felicity Williams. Illustrated by Michael Martchenko.
Ages Babies and up.
As an educator, composer and poet, Felicity Williams is a natural interpreter of language for the very young. In Pocketful of Stars, she has created original verses for parents and care-givers. Her writing joins a rich literature of play rhymes for children. Although many of the well-known nursery rhymes and songs have direct connections to the pastoral, with actions referring to shoeing colts, to little cows in the field and to the riding of the hunt, Williams pulls this genre into the modern world with rhymes about the Car Washer, the Clothes Dryer and Power Pylons. The little pigs in this collection do not go to market but into outer space to walk "upon the moon" and sing "a lunar tune."
In her introduction, Williams touches upon the theories of language acquisition and physical development which are behind the fun of such nursery chants. Listening skills, mimicry and motor development are all mentioned. Williams also states that, because the rhymes are specfically for babies, "they contain a great deal of mimicry and repetition," two devices that are essential to the development of speech and other cognitive skills. One additional comment she might have noted is that the repetition is vital for adults wanting to learn and use the rhymes. One reason that the traditional chants are so resiliant is that they spring from childhood play and require very little effort to put them back into use. Memorizing poetry is an additional task for parents learning a wide variety of new skills. Williams' rhymes, such as Spaghetti (Here's a piece of spaghetti all slimy and thin, It twirls and it curls and it tickles your chin), are easily assimilated whereas others with extended refrains, such as The Popcorn Dance (in part, Do the popcorn polka, Do the popcorn jig-a-jig, Do the popcorn pirouette, Go dancing with a pig), are more difficult. Some of the latter will require the book in hand; however, enough are easily learned that they will quickly become rote.
A series of side panels in smaller print elaborate on the actions for each rhyme. Williams is expansive in these instructions, emphasizing for example, that the bouncing can be as "rough or smooth as you choose." In this way, she gives adults latitude in interpreting their own level of comfort with handling the baby and allows for the actions to become progressively stronger as the baby grows into toddlerhood. In one of her final statements, Williams, by directing her readers to "enjoy this book with your baby," returns to one of the main purposes of nursery chants, the wonderful fun of playing with the baby!
Michael Martchenko, a well-known illustrator for children, applies his characteristic style to these modern nursery games. Illustrators for this genre seem to choose either a soft, reverent interpretation of babyhood (Catherine Stock - Trot Trot to Boston) or a silly, exaggerated style (Alan Tiegreen - Pat-a-Cake and other Play Rhymes). Martchenko joins the latter with his cover illustration of a toothy tot exuberantly engineering a train full of toys. Other Martchenko characters include a dancing cob of corn, mice piloting a shoe boat and a child careening into a mud pile. The sense of fun and abandon are a good complement to Williams' lively poetry. Martchenko directs his illustrations to a wider audience than just parents of infants. By portraying some of the children engaging in older pastimes, Martchenko enhances William's stated intention of appealing to older siblings who can also join in the fun. In Pocketful of Stars, Williams and Martchenko have successfully collaborated to add another title to collections of play rhymes.
Jennifer Johnson works as a children's librarian in Ottawa.
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Copyright © 1997 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS FOR THIS ISSUE - APRIL 25, 1997.
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