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A Mother Goose Odyssey, or a Journey ‘Over the Hills...’

Over the Hills and Far Away is a Treasury in the true sense of the word: a collection of 150 rhymes from countries all over the English-speaking world, including Great Britain, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ghana, South Africa and the Caribbean, compiled by Seven Stories co-founder Elizabeth Hammill. There are 150 rhymes, and each double-page spread is illustrated by a different artist, a star-studded roll call of international award-winners and world-class illustrators, as well as young emerging talent from the four corners of the globe. Elizabeth explains how the book came about.


his story begins in 2000. Always fascinated by what English folklorist Iona Opie calls the ‘international exchange and flow’ of nursery rhymes and verse, I frequently scoured bookstores and libraries for nursery collections, enjoying the

discovery of rhyme and language in motion as traditional verses are given new and varied life across the globe. Single culture collections of homegrown rhymes from America, the Caribbean and Australia as well as verse that has entered English from Asian, African and Native and Hispanic American cultures and elsewhere have intrigued me too. Listening with pleasure to the many ‘diverse voices’ that speak to the very young, I was surprised that nowhere could I find a wide-ranging ‘Mother Goose’ that sets these translated and ‘newer’ verses alongside traditional favourites and injects fresh life into them – a collection that reflects our increasingly diverse world to the youngest readers. How could this unexpected gap be filled?

donate their time and work to the Centre’s growing collection?

It was this intriguing idea that I began to explore in the summer of 2000 when I visited the African-American artist and storyteller Ashley Bryan in Maine and found warm and whole-hearted support for the project. My research began in Ashley’s library where I was introduced to a wealth of African, Caribbean, African American and folk material. Ten months later, the enterprise had been embraced by publisher David Fickling and work had commenced on a collection to be called Over the Moon. However, as the Seven Stories project gathered pace, it became clear that my focus needed to be on the Centre rather than the collection, so reluctantly, it was put to one side.

Eight years later, I revisited my original text, urged on by colleagues familiar with my initial collection. To my delight, it still felt fresh and alive. There was nothing quite like it on the market. Janetta Otter-Barry shared my excitement and Frances Lincoln agreed to

At that time, my attention was focused on the establishment of Seven Stories, now the National Centre for Children’s Books. As we raised funding for this project, I wondered whether an international ‘Mother Goose’ for the English speaking world could be created that not only supported the artistic vision of the nascent Centre but also benefited it from royalties worldwide? Could the double spreads be illustrated by artists here and abroad who would

12 Books for Keeps No.208 September 2014

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