In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Mother Goose was a poet

Dear Aunt Debbie,

The Piggy in the Puddle is one of the few kids' books I bought for myself as an adult before having children, simply because it cracks me up every single time I read it. What an awesome book.

I agree with you about poetry being everywhere in kids' books. Next time I write, I'll touch on a few books that fit into your other categories, but tonight I want to focus on Mother Goose.

We have several editions of Mother Goose rhymes, each of which has its particular delights.

First, there's the big old classic Real Mother Goose, illustrated by Blanche Fisher Wright:

The Real Mother Goose

I think this is the most comprehensive, with rhymes packed in sometimes five to a page. Because there are so many rhymes, it can feel overwhelming, but you find wonderful ones you've never heard of, as well as the golden oldies. There's a Table of Contents, but no index, so it takes some work to find a specific rhyme. The illustrations (first published in 1916) are pleasingly old-fashioned: bonnets and aprons abound. Because of the number of rhymes per page, not every rhyme is illustrated -- this sometimes bothers Eleanor, who wants a picture to go with everything.

Scholastic has put out a series of Real Mother Goose board books as well: The Real Mother Goose Board Book, My First Real Mother Goose, etc. These are lovely and small, easy to read and easier for kids to hold. An interesting side note in terms of our conversation on race: in the smaller board books, Scholastic has photoshopped the illustrations to make some of the children black.

Tomie dePaola has the same combination of big hardcover Mother Goose and little board books as spinoffs:

Tomie dePaola's Mother Goose

Tomie's Little Mother Goose

dePaola's illustrations are simple, cheerful, and childlike. While I love some of his other books to pieces, his Mother Goose illustrations have always struck me as a little too sweet, but maybe that's just me. Some of his rhymes in the big book are one per page, some up to four, with illustrations for each. (His big book does have an index, by the way.)

The Mother Goose we found ourselves reading most often to Eleanor are two books edited by Iona Opie and illustrated by Rosemary Wells. Have I mentioned how much I love Rosemary Wells? Opie loves her, too. In the introduction to their big book, The Very Best of Mother Goose, she writes:

I firmly believe that Rosemary Wells is Mother Goose's cousin and has inherited the family point of view. Her illustrations exactly reflect Mother Goose's many moods: glumpish, her animals look wickedly askance at the world; happy, they almost dance off the page; cosily at home, there is no greater depth of contentment. They make me shout with glee.

While the big book we have is out of print (hence the Alibris link), it appears to be a combination of two Opie/Wells books that are still quite happily in print:

My Very First Mother Goose

Here Comes Mother Goose

Tons of rhymes, each with its own giant watercolor illustrations, and joy on every page. Chapters. An index. And, of course, associated board books.

Finally, there's the Opie/Wells book of lesser-known rhymes:

Mother Goose's Little Treasures

We read this one a lot. It has some fabulous oddball rhymes, so I'll end with two of our favorites:

Mrs. Whirly sells fish,
Three ha'pence a dish.
Don't buy it,
don't buy it;
It stinks
when you fry it.


When the rain raineth
And the goose winketh,
Little knows the gosling
What the goose thinketh.

Man, I need to get a working scanner.

Love, Annie

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