The B on Your Thumb

Guest Post by Colette Hiller

A bit about the B – what I set out to do

The B on Your Thumb is a collection of learning rhymes to boost reading and spelling. Using rhythm, rhyme and wordplay, these playful ditties aim to help children navigate the strange territory of the English language. The letters themselves have stories to tell. Why do Q and U stick together? (They’re actually in love!) What is life like as a silent letter? (Hugely frustrating!) And why is E so bossy? (’E just is!)  

Rhyme and Reason  

This little piggy still goes to market and Humpty Dumpty still sits on a wall… There’s a good reason why nursery rhymes have endured: children enjoy reciting them. Our oral tradition still flourishes with handclapping chants and skipping rope songs. The handclapping songs of my own childhood are the ones that inspired me to write this book. Some didn’t even rhyme but they always had rhythm. Further influences include AA Milne’s When We Were Very Young and Dennis Lee’s classic book of nonsense rhymes ‘Alligator Pie’. (‘Alligator pie, Alligator Pie. / If I don’t get some I think I’m gonna die.’) I was particularly thrilled when Dennis Lee penned an endorsement for the book (and in rhyme to boot!).

If a rhyme can be memorable, it can also help us to remember things. Like ‘I before E except after C’ and ‘30 days has November’. For many of us, these simple mnemonics have proved invaluable. But I was baffled. These ditties were useful and easy to learn. Why, then, weren’t there more of them? And so I set out to write some, which is how The B on Your Thumb came to be.

In fact I’d begun writing these learning rhymes years ago when my own twins were small. The first sound I taught them was also the first rhyme I wrote for them. And the sound was not A! Why start with an A sound when the sound of ‘Shhhh’ is more fun to make?

The Sh in Your Shoe – poem

As I expanded the themes in the book, I added some Magic Spells – simple rhymes to help master tricky spellings. In truth, I’m a rotten speller myself and needed help! Interestingly, according to the OED, the words that trip up children are the same words that often flummox adults. Take for example, the word SEPARATE.  



has two As.

They don’t get on, it’s true.

Luckily, there is an R
to separate the two.

Different words can sound alike. It’s hard to know what’s right or write! English is filled with homophones. I wanted to create rhymes to help children delight in knowing which is witch!

Which Witch? – rhyme and image

Which witch 

is the which to use?

How do you know 

which witch to use?

A wicked witch 

has a wicked T,

as if to say

“Tee hee hee hee!”

I was chuffed to bits to learn The B on Your Thumb has been selected for National Poetry Day. Education writer supremo James Clements writes in Teach Primary how the poems in The B can inspire children to write their own rhymes around tricky spellings. I hope they do! 

The B on Your Thumb is published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Any opinions expressed may not truly reflect those of the FCBG.

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