March 26, 2012

Pocketful of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes

Pocketful of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes
By Salley Mavor
2-4 Preschool Primary Houghton Mifflin 62 pp.
978-0618737406 Hardcover $21.99

Nursery rhymes, though individually short and often non-sensical, are, collectively speaking, a world unto themselves, where lambs follow little girls and eggs fall off walls to disastrous effect. Yet few collections give life to the Mother Goose world, focusing instead on the individual rhymes rather than the links that make them a whole. Pocketful of Posies, Salley Mavor's inventive new collection, beautifully fills the gap.

The strength of Mavor's collection rests in two ares - her rhyme selection and her felted illustrations. Pocketful of Posies, though by no means exhaustive, contains a wide variety of nursery rhymes, with old favorites like "Jack and Jill" nestled together with lesser-known rhymes such as "Elsie Marley" and "Daffy-Down-Dilly". Rather than being tossed in at random, the rhymes are loosely linked through content or theme (last lines of one poem often lead to the first lines of the next). Even more interestingly, poems that, based on their texts alone have nothing in common, share large, double-page spreads (the children tumbling out of the Old Woman's shoe-house bounce straight through the "Roses are red" garden, which appears to be in the Old Woman's back yard). In this way, through careful rhyme selection and placement, Mavor creates the perfect foundation for her incredible cloth illustrations.

It took Mavor ten years of experimentation to perfect the fabric relief technique that gives her illustrations their tactile, three-dimensional quality. With no white space, the pages are completely filled with cottony blue skies and fleecy green hills and embroidered trees and flowers and plants of nearly Faberge-like detail. Into these rich little environments are dropped curly crotched sheep and children with smooth, round faces and tiny, perfectly rendered fingers clutching horns (Little Boy Blue) and shepherd's crooks (Little Bo-Peep) and other found items like feathers, acorns and beads. Even the individual bits of straw in a black hen's nest are individually rendered with incredible care. The overall effect is, quite literally, magical as the reader is visually compelled into each page and welcomed to stay there as long as she might wish.

Pocketful of Posies is an honest work of art, one that is not only accessible to, but designed specifically for, children. My only regret is that its pages aren't indestructible, otherwise I would be recommending it for children of all ages (not just older toddlers and up) - even those whose concept of reading primarily involves gumming a book's pages. Study upon study has been done on Mother Goose and language acquisition. Thanks to Mavor, a collection of nursery rhymes now exists that is as much a feast for the eyes and imagination as the rhymes are for mind.

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