In this episode we discuss the history and fun of nursery rhymes including ideas for older students too.
Books Discussed in This Episode:
Welcome to “Books that Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion, leading to teachable moments with our kids.
This week we’re going to talk about nursery rhymes. We have mother goose day in the first week of May. I wanted to talk about traditional nursery rhymes as well as some modern day nursery rhymes and some parodies of nursery rhymes. So we’re going to have a little bit of fun today as we recall those old nursery rhymes that we memorized as children.
The first book I want to mention is a board book; it’s called My First Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes by Lisa McHugh. And it’s a board book. It’s very short, but it is very well done. And it’s got the cushion in the cover, which I love when a board book has that to make it softer for children. And it has all the basic, most-loved nursery rhymes such as “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary,” and “Hey Diddle Diddle, the Cat and the Fiddle,” “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe,” and a couple that are not as well-known. And then it also has “Wee Willy Winky” at the end to say goodnight. So it ends on a good note if you were reading it before bedtime, it would be really nice to have this book.
There’s another more extensive mother goose book. And this is The Classic Collection of Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes, illustrated by Gina Beck. What I like about this one is it has the second verse to a bunch of these nursery rhymes we’re familiar with. A lot of times we know the first verse, but some of them have a second verse that we may not remember. This book is very colorful, very nicely done. And this book has over a hundred pages of poems. And so we start with “Baa-Baa Black Sheep,” and the illustrations are really, really well done. “Hickory Dickory Dock,” “Georgie Porgie,” “Jack and His Fiddle,” “A Plum Pudding.” And then there’s one I don’t remember as a child called “Teeth and Gums.” “30 white horses upon a red heel. Now they tramp. Now they champ. Now they stand still.” “Come Out and Play,” which is about the moon. We have “Where Has My Little Dog Gone?” There’s quite a few in here that I don’t remember as a child, but many of the ones I do remember are in here, but the illustrations are just really pretty and cute and funny. So I think it’s a fun book to share because it keeps that fun feeling for the different nursery rhymes, where some of the illustrations and some of the books that are older are not as fun to look at, but these are just really well done.
And here’s an example of one that includes the second verse. We all know “Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after. Then up Jack got and off did trot as fast as he could caper, to old Dame Dob who patched his knob with vinegar and brown paper.” So that’s the second verse. So several of these, they’ve included a second verse that we may not be quite as familiar with. And “The House that Jack Built” actually is like a whole story of rhyme that is included in the book, which is nice. “The Mulberry Bush” includes several verses for that one, and “Old Mother Hubbard,” same thing. So some of these are actually almost like stories when they include all the different stanzas in the poem.
Another book I want to share that I think is well-worth sharing, especially if you’re talking about nursery rhymes and you’re doing a little, maybe a short unit on poetry, and you include nursery rhymes in that with your homeschooling or, or something like that. You should include After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again by Dan Santat. And I’ve mentioned this one before, but it is such a good book. It is about facing your fears. It’s about not giving up. And it’s about discovering who you are. It’s very cute. And it’s a very good book. And I really enjoy this book. And it’s told in first person. It says, “My name is Humpty Dumpty. This was my favorite spot.” It shows the wall with the Ivy growing on it. “This was my favorite spot, high up on the wall. I know it’s an odd place for an egg to be, but I loved being close to the birds. Then one day I fell. I’m sort of famous for that part. Folks called it the great fall, which sounds a little grand. It was just an accident, but it changed my life.” He’s afraid to get up on anything high. He sleeps on the floor and eventually he starts to face his fear and tries to climb up on the wall. Again, realizes why he liked to be so near the birds. It’s because he also is a bird and he hatches finally and flies away. But it’s very cute. So that one, I think is fun to include if you’re doing a unit on nursery rhymes.
And then we have a very old book that is just very silly and it is called Nonsense Nursery Rhymes, poems by Richard Edwards and illustrated by Chris Fisher. And it goes through the alphabet, and they’re just nonsense nursery rhymes. So we have, it’s an ABC book and I will do the H one since we’re talking about Humpty Dumpty. It says, “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. He didn’t get bruised. He didn’t get bumped. Humpty Dumpty, bungee jumped.” We have Georgie Porgie for G. “Georgie Porgie pudding and pie thought he’d catch a fish to fry, cast a line above his head, caught an airplane instead.” Okay. We have J: “Jack Sprat could eat no fat, no sausages, no stew. His beard was made to bristly, and it wouldn’t let things through.” So his mouth is closed because of his beard. So they’re just goofy, goofy nursery rhymes, but it is an alphabet book and it is fun. If your children know the original nursery rhyme, then they’ll think it’s funny that they’ve changed it. And then in the very back, it has the traditional nursery rhymes. They have all except a V X and Z, and they couldn’t think of any that began with those letters, but it does have the list of traditional nursery rhymes for all the other letters of the alphabet.
And then another book I wanted to share is called Mary Had a Little Jam and Other Silly Rhymes, Expanded Edition with Twice as Many Rhymes created by Bruce Lansky and illustrated by Stephen Carpenter. And this is quite a thick book. It has a whole lot of funny nursery rhymes, but again, even when we’re reading these it’s fun because it’s allusion to the other, you know, to the traditional nursery rhyme. And so the kids get the joke, but it’s also still teaching rhyme and rhythm, but it’s a lot of fun for that purpose. If you’re teaching high schoolers and teaching them literary devices, I always advocate for using a simple book to help them really nail down the literary device before they go and try to find it in Shakespeare or in some longer work of literature. And so we can talk about rhythm and meter and rhyming and talk about allusion, alliteration and all of these literary devices and all of these silly rhymes. I’ll read a couple of these to you.
“Old mother goose used to fly through the air, riding a gander. They made a fine pair. Now, when she wants to get somewhere soon, she rides on the cow that jumped over the moon.” “Mary had a little jam, she spread it on a waffle. And if she hadn’t eaten ten, she wouldn’t feel so awful.” “Hickory Dickory dock, a mouse jumped in my sock. He wiggled his nose and tickled my toes, which gave me quite a shock.” And then there’s “Hickory Dockery hick. The day your clock gets sick. It says talk tick, but not tick tock call the Hickory Dickory dock.” Oh, one of my favorite when I was a kid was the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead. So this one is, “There was a little girl and she had a little curl that drooped in the middle of her face. To improve her view, she took some goo and stuck it back in place.” Just to let you know that when you get to Humpty Dumpty, it has a little lesson on potty training. And then on the second page about Humpty Dumpty, it says “Humpty Dumpty laid by the pool. Humpty Dumpty thought he was cool. He wouldn’t wear sunscreen. He thought it was dumb. Now he’s served at McDonald’s with him on a bun.” In all of these different nursery rhymes in this book, there is a lesson to be learned from each one about not eating too much, about wearing sunscreen, discipline, being careful, sharing, just all kinds of different value lessons that we might want to teach our kids throughout this book. So that makes it even cute as well.
Several nursery rhymes have been expanded into storybooks that are really fun to read. And I mentioned the one about Humpty Dumpty: After the Fall, but some of these are board books and picture books. A couple of really cute ones–one is called Little Miss Muffet, and it is by Iza Trapani. And she starts out running away from the spider and she tries to hide. And then she has a mouse scare her, and she goes outside. And so it’s really cute. She keeps running from one place to another, and it’s very nice rhyming in this book.
And then there’s a little board book that’s Mary Had a Little Lamb with a finger puppet. And so you get to use the puppet as you go through the story.
Another one I really like is Hickory Dickory Dock. And this one is very clever. It is by Keith Baker and it has different animals going up the clock. And it has verbs that we would use to describe different animals. And this is just a really cute book. Let me read just a tiny bit of this one to you. It starts traditionally, “Hickory Dickory dock. The mouse ran up the clock. The clock struck one it’s time for fun, Hickory Dickory dock, Hickory Dickory dock, a bird sing to the clock. The clock struck to and away. She flew Hickory Dickory dock, Hickory Dickory dock, a snake wrapped round the clock, the clock struck three. He took the key Hickory Dickory dock.” And then it goes on from there, but it’s just cute. And it goes through the hours on the clock and it shows the right time on the clock for each time. And so you can also use this to review or teach telling time on the hour.
If you have children who are older and you’re homeschooling them, maybe you’re homeschooling all your kids together, and you need to do something for your older students that would make this interesting. Of course, we know that all of the nursery rhymes have a history that many of them are satire, commenting on politics and social situations in their time. And most of these were published in newspapers or what they call Chapbooks. The Secret History of Nursery Rhymes by Linda Alkin. It deals with the history. It deals with the satire, the different commentaries that they’re making on the history at the time. And I’ve read a few books about this and I like this one the best, and that’s why I’m recommending it. I felt like it offered a good viewpoint. Gave us the history without being inappropriate for older children. It’s written well. It’s easy to understand it gives you a good history.
And in fact, I’m going to read you a little of the introduction from the book, because I think it is so good. It gives you such a good history of the nursery rhymes that we all have grown up with. It says “This book uncovers the secret history of nursery rhymes. Many of the history and origins of the humble nursery rhyme are believed to be associated with actual events in history, with references to murder and persecution, betrayal, greed, and two tyrants and royalty rhymes are usually short and therefore easy to remember a critical factor. During the times when many people weren’t able to read or write, they were passed verbally from one generation to the next, before the invention of the printing press reciting old nursery rhymes to our children is one of the most pleasurable first steps to developing their language skills and extending their vocabulary. The words were remembered, but their secret histories were forgotten. Although some of the most popular nursery rhymes are rooted in English history. They are told to children throughout the English speaking world, old English nursery rhymes were taken to America with the settlers from England. They were then spread across Commonwealth countries, including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Political satire was cleverly disguised in the wording of some seemingly innocent nursery rhymes. These were used as safe vehicles to parody unpopular political Royal and historical events of the day. By this simple process, subversive messages of discontent were spread in times when words of dissent or the direct criticism of powerful people would often have been punishable by torture or death. Some interpretations of the rhymes are controversial. You may agree with some ideas and disagree with others. Are they truth or fallacy difficult to decide considering much of our accepted history is often based on pure conjecture. History is also biased. This view is perfectly illustrated in the words of Winston Churchill, who once said history will be kind to me for, I intend to write it. Another Winston also comes to mind when considering the subject of truth in the George Orwell novel 1984, the nursery rhyme “Oranges and Lemons” is only partially remembered by the principal character, Winston Smith. Various characters contribute snippets of the rhyme until the verse is completed, but it is lost forever when the final few people who remember it all die. Thankfully, we do not yet live in the world described in Orwell’s 1984, and there is no Big Brother to prevent the eradication of our culture and the publication of books such as this.” They go on to talk about the chap books. So nursery rhymes began to be printed in England as early as 1570. And up till then they were just passed verbally from one person to another. And then we hear about mother goose, mother goose publications. “The first known publication of a collection of nursery rhymes was in 1744. And the first confirmed collection of nursery rhymes using the term mother goose was published in 1780. Although a collection of stories called Mother Goose Tales was published in 1729, the mother goose term caught the imagination of printers publishers and the general public invariably. The illustrations accompanying the publications depicted mother goose as an old crone or a witch. Various claims have been made claiming ownership of the term mother goose and our search for the origins have established the following information.” And so then they go on and give great detail, but it started according to what they found in 1650 in France. And so it’s just kind of interesting to realize how far back these nursery rhymes go and that we still quote them today, of course, not knowing all these different meanings behind them. So then on each page in this book, it gives you the rhyme and it gives you an explanation, for instance, “Baa baa black sheep. Have you any wool? Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Three bags full.” Underneath the rhyme after it has the whole rhyme, it says, “The earliest publication date is 1744. Music was first published in the early 19th century. The wool industry was critical to England’s economy from the middle ages until the 19th century. So it is not surprising that it is celebrated in the ‘Baa baa black sheep’ nursery rhyme. A historical connection for this rhyme has been suggested. A political satire said to refer to the Plantagenet King Edward, the first, the master and the export tax imposed in Britain in 1275, in which the English custom statute authorized the King to collect a tax on all exports of wool in every port in the country.”
I think for your older students, this would be really a good jumping off lesson into satire, which was very popular during the time of King George, the beginning of the American colonies and all of that in the 1700’s. So if you’re going to be doing a unit on satire, why not start with our nursery rhymes.
In the show notes below, I will also have some links to some great websites. One is a website with free Christian nursery rhymes, and two sites are some great lesson plans you can use with your kids. When you’re talking about nursery rhymes, I hope these will help you with your homeschooling and that you can have a great time with your kids.
Now to end today, I usually read a devotional written by someone else, but today I decided to read one that I wrote to share with you. And it’s based on John 10:27. “My sheep listen to my voice. I know them and they follow me.” Nearly everyone has heard or sung the nursery rhyme song “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and we may have even heard the Christian version that tells the story of Christ in the nursery rhyme. The lamb follows Mary to school. In our real lives, we follow the lamb. However, the poem is also true. The lamb does go with us wherever we go. Psalm 139 makes that very clear. We cannot go anywhere that is away from the presence of God. He is with us always and wherever we go. And that is a wonderful promise. Our children can hold on to in the middle of any situation. But our emphasis as disciples must be that we follow the lamb. Mary Magdalene followed the lamb. She had been a woman tortured by many evil spirits and Jesus set her free. She followed him the rest of her life. She was forever changed and she wanted only to live her life. Following the lamb, she was grateful. She was free. She was blessed and her response was to follow the lamb. Another Mary was the sister of Martha. She too followed the lamb. She chose to learn from him and listened to his teachings. Instead of being caught up in the busy activities with her sister, Martha, she chose the more important activity of knowing and following the lamb. These Mary’s had the precious lamb who took away their sin. They throughout all their lives chose to follow him.
Lord, help us to remember the most important part of our lives is following the lamb. May our children faithfully follow the lamb as well. And thank you that the lamb is always with us wherever we go. And thank you that the lamb is always with us, wherever we go. What a blessing to know you to be set free and forgiven by you and to follow you wherever you may lead in Jesus name. We pray. Amen.
Thank you for joining us for “Books that Spark,” a podcast, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions. I hope these books inspire you and help you to have some great times with your kids and remembering the nursery rhymes we’ve all grown up with. And I hope some of these nursery rhymes and the lessons behind them will open up some interesting conversations with your kids. Remember, you can sign up for my mailing list at my website, TerrieHellardBrown.com. When you sign up, you receive several free products that are only available to my mailing list.
Links to Helpful Websites:
Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.
Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.
Her blog posts are published each Thursday and discuss living as a disciple of Christ while discipling our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ.
For more information, visit her website at terriehellardbrown.com
Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.
Her motto is “Growing older is inevitable; growing up is optional” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.