cover image Tail Feathers from Mother Goose: The Opie Rhyme Book

Tail Feathers from Mother Goose: The Opie Rhyme Book

. Little Brown and Company, $15.95 (124pp) ISBN 978-0-316-65081-6

Dinner rhymes, verses for ``awkward moments'' with children, poems about love, seafaring, the devil in the garden, nonsense lines loved by a family member and handed downall these have been culled from the Opie Collection of Children's Literature and appear in print here, in many cases for the very first time. A procession of more than 60 illustrators have created spreads for the rhymes: Caroline Anstey, Reg Cartwright, Bob Graham, Anthony Browne, Shirley Hughes, Charlotte Voake, Martin Baynton, Helen Oxenbury, Philippe Dupasquier, among many, many others. A sampling of the verses reveals their color and variety: the poetry of ``Goose-Wing Chariot'' (``Grey goose and gander / Waft your wings together,''), or the humor of ``John Wesley'' (``Now these two brothers had a coat, / They bought it on a Monday. / John Wesley wore it all the week / And Charlie on a Sunday,'') or the solid, marching beat of ``The Soldiers' Camp'' (``Father and I went down to camp / Along with Captain Gooden, / And there we saw the men and boys / as thick as hasty pudden' ''). The inclusion of definitions of unfamiliar words and phrases (``keekit'' for peeped, ``five ribbons'' for army badges) helps to clear up any potential confusion. The many historical asides may prove invaluable for collectors and serious students of both children's literature and anthropology. A note might explain the way the verse has evolved, or the poem's source or contributorRobert Graves recited two to the Opies; Oliver Cromwell's descendent, Richard Warner, offered up ``The Eccentric,'' complete with hand motions; and Robert Burns's wife Jean crooned a lullaby about a robin and a wren to her children. Not all the rhymes are unsigned: George Bernard Shaw provided one and called it his ``Opus I.'' In these pages (and in the Opie Collection itself) it is possible to unearth further examples of the mysterious singsong phrases that have delighted many generationswords that have a lasting importance to children, long after they have become adults; verses that remain part of an oral tradition in a strictly documented world. A rare project indeed, and one that is sure to be of enduring value to children's literature. All ages. (October)