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“It’s their first taste of storytelling”: Allie Esiri’s mission to share the joy and magic of nursery rhymes

Find all the classics alongside songs, riddles, limericks and new nursery rhymes in this definitive new anthology from the award-winning ‘poetry powerhouse’.

By Rebecca Roberts | Last updated Apr 17, 2024

Allie Esiri

Allie Esiri is a London-based author and curator who has created anthologies of poetry and literature for both children and adults. Her latest release, “A Nursery Rhyme for Every Night of the Year”, is a delightful collection of rhymes, riddles, and playground chants that are perfect for soothing or entertaining children at bedtime. In this book, Allie has compiled a rhyme for almost any situation, making it an indispensable addition to any family’s library.

Following its release, we caught up with Allie to discuss what inspired her to curate her latest collection. “Amongst other anthologies in this series that I have compiled is “A Poem for Every Night of the Year”, and families seem to enjoy it - even buying it for their friends. So, I thought that “A Nursery Rhyme for Every Night of the Year” could be an equally fun book for the earlier years.

“I had felt as a young parent that I couldn’t remember many nursery rhymes, riddles or playground chants. I was often looking for something to entertain, distract or soothe one of my children and there is a nursery rhyme here, luckily, for almost any situation.” 

Creating the collection

“A Nursery Rhyme for Every Night of the Year” is the first children’s book from the award-winning ‘poetry powerhouse’, and features glorious illustrations by Emily Faccini. The book is divided into themed months and features meticulously researched introductions by Allie to each of the 366 entries, offering context, explanations and guidance to classics and lesser-known rhymes. Readers can also enjoy new rhymes from Michael Rosen, Julia Donaldson, Floella Benjamin, Giles Andreae and Rod Campbell, written exclusively for the collection.

A Nursery Rhyme for Every Night of the Year by Allie Esiri

“It’s an enjoyable read for both kids and parents. It’s allowed me to relive childhood memories with my little ones…”

Mumsnet editor and mum-of-two, Rachel

A Nursery Rhyme for Every Night of the Year

Edited by Allie Esiri, illustrated by Emily Faccini

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Allie’s personal childhood memories also played a role in the creation of this book: “Some of my happiest memories feature nursery rhymes”, she shares.

“My primary school memories seem to ignore times tables and focus on the absolute joy we had playing, clapping, skipping and circle games in the small playground. At home, my favourite babysitter, Janet, would recit ‘Five Little Speckled Frogs’ to me again and again.

“Children always want you to ‘tell it again, tell it the same’, as Vita Sackville West noted.”

Creating a book of nursery rhymes posed a unique challenge for Allie though, as many of the rhymes were part of an oral tradition and were not written down for centuries. This resulted in multiple versions of some rhymes, with variations across time and regions. For example, in the United States, “Incy Wincy Spider” goes by the name “Itsy Bitsy Spider.”

“I wanted to include not only all the classics, but also songs, riddles, limericks and new nursery rhymes so it is a book for today”, Allie continues. “With variety, and diversity… Different from the book you might find on your grandparents’ shelf.

“In November, for example, the rune of history rhymes includes songs from the Underground Railroad and Coronavirus, alongside ‘Remember, Remember the Fifth of November’ and ‘London’s Burning’. The book covers nursery rhymes from all over the world, not just England - Trinidadian, Jamaican, and Nigerian rhymes are also included. We also, thrillingly, have new rhymes from the likes of  Julia Donaldson, Floella Benjamin and Michael Rosen.” 

There were, of course, some that didn’t make the cut due to their offensive wording in historical variants. For Allie, they were “easy and pleasing to cull”. 

The benefits of nursery rhymes for children

Beyond the traditions of nursery rhymes, “A Nursery Rhyme for Every Night of the Year” also aims to provide educational benefits for young children, as Allie explains: “it’s their first taste of storytelling and they develop phonological awareness - the foundation for reading and spelling.

“Nursery rhymes are one of the best tools for preparing your child for school. A US study in 2001 showed that children who knew eight nursery rhymes by heart at the age of four would likely be the best readers and spellers in their class by the age of eight.

“Further research in 2009 shows these benefits remain, even accounting for differences in IQ and social background.

“However, I think what’s more important is that it delivers the beginning of a love of wordplay and storytelling.” After all, “what child doesn’t want to sit on an adult’s knee and be flown to the moon with the rhyme ‘Zoom, zoom, zoom!’ or to play with their friends singing ‘Ring-a-Ring-a-Roses’ (which incidentally, as you’ll find out in the book, is not about the Great Plague…)?” 

Allie Esiri

It’s never too early to introduce nursery rhymes to babies, either, as Allie explains: “at the earliest stages, they help babies’ comprehension by putting actions to words, to tell simple stories. 

“For toddlers, nursery rhymes are great preparation for primary school — to be able to read, we ideally need to recognise all the different sounds in English. The rhyme, rhythm and repetition of nursery songs or chants make them perfect tools for making this crucial stage of language development a fun and joyful process.”

Allie also believes that teaching children nursery rhymes can help them to learn “from around the world”, and “can be used to promote diversity and inclusion.”

She shares: “The book commemorates many different cultural and religious dates with rhymes that celebrate Chinese New Year, Vesak, Lent, Passover, Vaisikhi, Ramadan, Divali, Christmas and Hanukkah. 

“Hopefully, all children will see themselves represented in this book.”

So, how can you incorporate nursery rhymes into your child’s daily routine? Allie suggests that you can read from her book, or even make up your own nursery rhymes: “Many nursery rhymes make no sense. They were probably invented by a parent or caregiver grappling for ways to amuse their charge, knowing that the sense is unimportant.” 

Quick questions with Allie Esiri

1. Do you have a personal favourite nursery rhyme from the book? If so, which one and why?

“I have too many favourites but one is passing on ‘Pat-a-Cake’ to my children. I found out during my research that the marking of B on the cake in the rhyme harks back to a time when many households could not afford their own oven and would have their bread or cakes finished in a bakehouse. People would mark their initial on the dough before taking it to the communal ovens.” 

2. If you were to create a nursery rhyme for a specific day or occasion, what would it be and why?

“I did find rhymes for pretty much every occasion. “The ones in February around Valentine's Day are particularly wonderful, from 'Daisy Daisy' to a new variant of 'Roses are Red' commissioned for the book and another gem about the love for a sibling by Giles Andreae (who wrote the beloved Giraffes can't Dance). In January, Michael Rosen has written a wintry one about the downpouring of baked beans and Julia Donaldson on the occasion of a bedtime story itself.” 

3. What do you think is the most important message that parents and caregivers can take away from your book, "A Nursery Rhyme for Every Night of the Year"?

“I hope that they might recognise the joy and magic of sharing nursery rhymes.”

A charming and nostalgic collection

Overall, "A Nursery Rhyme for Every Night of the Year" is a charming and nostalgic collection that will delight both children and parents. As Allie noted, nursery rhymes have endured for centuries because they offer a shared cultural experience that connects generations.

With this book, families can continue to pass down these cherished rhymes to their children and grandchildren, ensuring their survival for generations to come.