13 Beautifully Illustrated Nursery Rhymes

Nursery rhymes may be as old as the hills yet they remain ever fresh. In them we find all of human life—the pleasures, tragedies and slapstick comedy of the everyday world as well as our first make-believe, our first nonsense—distilled into rhythmic, memorable form.

Since the first collections of rhymes were gathered together in print in the 1700’s, nursery rhymes and images have become inextricably entwined and became the natural province of illustrators from Kate Greenaway and Randolph Caldecott to Harold Jones and Maurice Sendak.

Nursery rhymes and images have become inextricably entwined

These single-illustrator nursery rhyme collections are wonderful, but in today’s diverse world, I wondered why were there no collections that both featured a range of illustrators and moved beyond the rhymes we know to celebrate the multiplicity of voices that speak to the very young. Nursery rhymes are borderless, but I wasn’t able to find books gathering together diversely illustrated verse from Asia, Australia, the Caribbean, Africa, or the Hispanic and Native American cultures.

In Over the Hills and Far Away, I wanted to create such a collection. I asked 77 artists from across the English-speaking world to contribute an illustration to the book, seeking to match each one culturally, temperamentally and stylistically with a rhyme or grouping of rhymes. The brief gave the illustrators complete interpretative freedom. I was delighted by their wit, imagination, multiple perspectives and experimentation in style as well as the sense of joy that pervaded the images. To turn a page in Over the Hills and Far Away is to move from one world to another, the varied artwork quickening the listener’s curiosity and helping us to discover cultural commonalities and differences in nursery rhymes. 

To turn a page in Over the Hills and Far Away is to move from one world to another

We begin and end with nighttime scenes. In the first, as the sun sets on the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, Native American artist Michael Chiago shows us in luminous watercolour an ancient but everyday Tohono O'odham tribal scene as mothers and children gather to listen 'in the blue night that is settling' to a storyteller who wonders: 'How shall I begin my song…' It’s a familiar happening worldwide and an invitation to all of us to listen and share the verses to come.

[As the book progresses], we follow the course of a day as well as the ages of man - moving from anytime lullabies to rhymes for and about babies to verse about children and play, memorable characters, kings and queens, the seasons, wind and weather and so on around the clock and through time to bedtime again. We meet artists whose artwork we know and love and discover others.

Hover over the images below to learn more about each illustration.



We have 2 copies of Over the Hills and Far Away to be won! To be in with a chance of winning one, just answer this question:

How may artists contributed to the book?

Send your answer to Chris Leslie at chris.leslie@scottishbooktrust.com. Competition closes on Wednesday 30 December 2015 at 5pm.

Entrants outside the UK must cover postage.


Over the Hills and Far Away - A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes From Around The World is out now, published by Frances Lincoln. All illustrations are from Over the Hills and Far Away - and all royalties from the sales will be donated to Seven Stories.

Rhyme Around the World - A Nursery Rhyme Exhibition is open at Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children's Books in Newcastle upon Tyne. The exhibition runs until July 2016 and gives you the  chance to see the original art work mentioned here and more for Over the Hills and Far Away - A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes From Around the World collected by Elizabeth Hammill, initiator and cofounder of Seven Stories. (Published in 2014 by Frances Lincoln Children's Books)

Elizabeth Hammill

Elizabeth Hammill is the co-founder of Seven Stories, a national centre for children's books based in Newcastle. Seven Stories hosts fantastic exhibitions and events based on the work of children's authors and illustrators, as well as running a rich programme for schools.