As you can imagine, from the nursery rhymes collections (including books) that I’ve produced, we like singing rhymes in my household. Nursery rhymes needn’t be sung to be enjoyed, however, and we favour two collections that we read.
Montmorency’s Book of Rhymes by TJ Winter is a treasury of rhymes written and illustrated in a classical style. The style and vocabulary are rich and my children often interrupt to ask the meaning of words – which is a welcome challenge for me; one that otherwise usually occurs when reading them non-fiction.
Our favourite rhymes are about the Masjid Mouse. His home above the clouds is never wet, his days are busy with interesting adventures, and he takes care to make salah (ritual prayer) on time. Usually we turn immediately to his pages and then choose a few other rhymes.
Since TJ Winter’s rhymes are written and illustrated in a historical style they pair well with Mother Goose collections of rhymes that have been passed down in oral tradition and print for generations. Although my chosen version of Mother Goose, illustrated by Sylvia Long, is not as ‘classical’ in design as other versions that are available, I have chosen it because it is crowded with rhymes yet each rhyme has been illustrated; because it’s ABC rhyme runs over several pages as do the Montmorency and Masjid Mouse rhymes; because it depicts animals in Victorian clothing which is the dress style for Montmorency’s Book (and our favourites from there are the animal rhymes); and because it is the same size.
Sylvia Long’s illustrations of Mother Goose connect readers with nature through animal characters and natural settings, and to Victorian heritage through clothing styles. The illustrations of Montmorency’s Book by Anne Yvonne Gilbert are also Victorian – they mainly concern humans but there are some animal rhymes; however, rather than using natural settings, the pictures alternate Eastern and Western dress and architecture to show historical human characters (and a mouse) practising ordinarily as Muslims in both Western and Eastern cultures. How lovely to see Muslims as normalised in comfortable historical settings – a healing experience for today’s children from all faiths and none who are often given word-associations and images of contemporary Muslims as alien at best.
For our family, pairing these two collections of nursery rhymes has stimulated conversations about how Muslims and people of other faiths can mutually enjoy each other’s books and which things are likely interesting – or not interesting – to others.
We all love the Masjid Mouse, and although his mosque home and his love for salah are not things non-Muslims can directly relate to or feel ownership for, his imaginative sense of adventure is a universal trait and his example of travelling to play, laugh, and sing with others who are different to him is an inspiring model we can all benefit from – whether we actually sing with our voices or we harmonise in other ways.
I am the author of Religious Rhyme Time, an Abrahamic children’s interfaith book, as well as Islamic Nursery Rhymes. I love eating chocolate while I write, and, with strictly chocolate-free fingers, I also create Muslim and interfaith children’s gifts for book people at my Etsy shop, BarakahBedtimesUK.
To follow/subscribe to this blog …[subscribe2]