Monday, March 22, 2010

"First French Rhymes"--first choice for moi!

Nursery rhymes are the foundation on which childhood literacy and language acquisition are built. We may not feel that nursery rhymes play a role in our daily lives as adults, but I dare you to hear "hickory dickory dock" and not automatically think of mice. And I bet "the old woman who lived in a shoe/who had so many children she didn't know what to do" came to mind when you first learned of Nadya Suleman, the Octomom. Mary and her little lamb, Old Mother Hubbard, Little Boy Blue, a short and stout teapot, Thumbkin, the baker-man with his pattycakes...these characters peopled my childhood like aunts, uncles, and cousins I only saw once a year but heard about regularly.

Nursery rhymes teach lessons, present positive behaviors to emulate and naughty behaviors to avoid, explain how people interact, show that it's okay to play with language, and much more. Internalizing the rhymes and rhythms helps us learn to speak, and later, to read. They give us glimpses into history and cultures from centuries past and ensure that most speakers of a given language have a common base, a frame of reference, to build upon.

All this is why I felt it was crucial for me to use nursery rhymes in French (comptines) with my son. This meant that I needed to learn many more of them myself--I hadn't encountered too many when I studied French as a teen and young adult. When I taught college French, I found a few that I used when teaching, usually as an introduction to the vocabulary topic we were about to tackle. But that wasn't nearly enough!

In all, we now have four or five nursery rhyme books in French which I read often to Griffin. Some are large hardcovers, others have lengthly CDs, but the one I like the best is the smallest, cheapest one, and I whole-heartedly recommend it to other English-speaking parents like myself:

Un Deux Trois: First French Rhymes, edited by Opal Dunn

Dunn has gathered some of the most common comptines and arranged them by category--"dans la prairie" and "au cafe," for example--so that rhymes on similar topics are on the same two-page spread and that the illustration contains elements from all the rhymes printed on the two pages. She labels the relevant pictures in French without giving English translations.

In fact, she doesn't provide English translations for any of the comptines. Rather, at the back of the book, she explains what each rhyme is about or what it was used for, occasionally suggesting movements or fingerplays to accompany them. The teacher in me likes that she doesn't set up the idea that one line in French equals one line in English and also that the illustrations and her comments allow you to get the gist of the rhymes without needing to know what every word means. (At least, that's my impression--maybe someone who doesn't speak much French could weigh in on that?)

Moreover, the paperback comes with a half-hour-long CD of native speakers (one adult female, joined occasionally by children) reading all the comptines, repeating some of them several times. (Another technique that makes me the teacher nod approvingly.) And the best part? It sells for $9.95. What's not to love?

Please click on "comments" to let us know of any nursery rhyme books (English or French) that you adore (and tell us why)!


  1. Thank so much for the review. While I was reading this (as with so many other reviews on French books) I thought 'This is all good and well, but we will most probably not get this in South Africa. Low and behold! I went searching and found it WITH CD! Yay! I will definitely give this a go with my little one (and myself).

  2. I, too, think nursery rhymes are crucial from a linguistic and cultural standpoint. Glad you are having success with them and Griffin is having fun with them. Songs are key too - there are many traditional French songs and knowing the tunes and the words are a big help to feeling a cultural connection later. Like you said about English nursery rhymes (and songs), knowing French ones brings the child that much closer to French culture. We have a ton of CD's with comptines and songs, but am not familiar with the one you describe. But, like the way you describe that the editor does not translate but gives readers a feel for what each one means. May have to buy it for a friend (my kids are bigger now).

  3. @Liavek--at nine months? wow! I too love it when Griffin recognizes a different version of the same song or comptine!

    I have the Vernay CD as well but don't like it as much as CDs with similar songs from a company called Kidzup (based in Canada). Can you provide more info about the Comptines a chanter books (author, publisher)? I'd like to look them up. Oh, the other series I would recommend is "Comptines des petits lascars," though I've only been able to find Vol. 1 (ages 1-4) so far. I'll have to write about these others later.

    Thanks for the reminder about Mama Lisa's site. I mentioned it on my blog a long time ago ( and had forgotten all about it! I'll go check out her page again and play some new songs and rhymes for Griff.

    Re: "Quand 3 poules" et al: I was playing the tune for those for songs on the piano at a children's musuem a few months ago, and a little girl shouted "Twinkle twinkle!" when she recognized it. Her mother corrected her sharply and told her that it was the alphabet song. It was amusing to watch the mom realize that they were both right.

    @Keda--I'm so glad you have access to this book! I hope is was as cheap in South Africa as here in the States.

    @Eve--Maybe the next time we get together we can do a CD swap! Are your boys really too old for nursery rhymes? Sigh.

    @Everybody who has kids older than mine--at what ages did they stop wanting to listen to nursery rhymes (set to music or read aloud)?

  4. I love Nursery rhymes...My kids love them too. I love the CDs.....The kids sometimes surprise me singing them in French out of the blue. SO cute!
    Thank you for linking this to French Obsession! Love it!

  5. Thanks for the great review. I recently purchased Mots D'Heures: Gousses, Rames to send to a friend for her new grandson. I'll look for this one as well.
    I taught first grade for many years and all the preschool years of listening, singing, and reciting these little rhymes provides an excellent foundation for reading.

  6. @Sarah--I have seen "Mots d'heure..." and think it's very clever, but I don't think Griffin would "get" it! There are a few other books of comptines that he enjoys; I'll try to post about them as well.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog! I looked at yours, too--you have an adorable great-nephew (with such a French name!) and beautiful photography on your blog.

    @Frenchy--Do you have any recommendations for French CDs? What do your kids like best?

  7. I'm so happy to find your blog about learning french, my boy is 3 years old and just start to attend French lessons. Thanks for your detail reviews and recommendations. It helps a lot.

    Jo :)

  8. Hi Jo, Thank you for your comment! Here are a few other French products that I have reviewed:

    Adventures in France DVD:

    Brainy Baby DVD:

    Baby's First Steps in French CD:

    French flashcards:

    You can access French children's books online (for free!) here:

    And finally, if you're not a French speaker yourself, you might want to read these recommendations:

  9. Its a lovely rhyme for all the kids...My son is just 2 years old and he is enjoying to listening this beautiful song...Five Little Chickadees
    Thanks for sharing