Mar 30, 2017

Who Says Nursery Rhymes Are for Nursery School?
I indicated in the previous post (here) my strong commitment to the importance of poetry in our lives, in lives at any age. As with so many other things we value, there will only be time and space if we PRIORITIZE those personal values. So I'm providing time and space to discuss nursery rhymes here.

Few would categorize traditional nursery rhymes as"poetry", but they lay the groundwork for sharing more sophisticated poetry later. It's where much of reading, listening, and word play   begin. Every time I see or hear a toddler who can rattle off a rap verse, whether age appropriate or not, I marvel at the deep and wide capacity of young minds to recognize and memorize the rhythms and rhymes within playful language. I have to admit, I also wonder if any of those emerging little online "stars" would be able to finish even a single line of a traditional nursery rhyme. Why does that matter? Won't they learn that in school? Should they?

Who's to blame for a lack of attention to traditional nursery rhymes? My glib response points a finger at technology and politics. Wh-a-a-a-t? 

Technology ( including social media, selfies, and digital diversions) offers immature egos (of any age) an irresistible access to attention. While growing up, my sibs and I would challenge our minds and bodies by balancing in stockinged toes on Dad's knees, maintaining our coveted position long enough to recite as many  nursery rhymes as we could before losing our balance and ceding the spotlight (knee-spot) to the next in line. That glow of attention was thrilling, but how does it compare to having a performance posted and "hit" thousands or even millions of times? Would "rapping" a nursery rhyme garner those same numbers as well as ludicrous (or Ludachris) lyrics? 

Technology enhances the role of politics (including local, state, federal) and the impact those pressures have on family expectations. Readily accessible digital data, comparative statistics, and inappropriate comparison of budgetary dollars have led to an educational system that craves points on standardized scores even more than those toddlers crave "views". 
The result of these forces has been parents who may not know the traditional nursery rhymes themselves, and preschool/primary classrooms so focused on mandated test -prep there's not a spare moment to squeeze in a  "Hey-diddle-diddle". Despite the big push for commonality, we're facing a disintegrating shared cultural experience.
Before I plunge off the "grumpy-old-woman" cliff, or imply that British/traditional rhymes should be considered standard culture for a very diverse population, I'll end this rant and share some favorite options with only a few lines of comment to each. Ready?

HIGH DIDDLE DIDDLE: Rhymes from Mother Goose, is designed and illustrated  by Robert A. Propper, (1975). It pairs familiar and lesser-known nursery rhymes with colorful graphic art that encourages attention to counting, colors, shapes, laughter, and experimentation. Look for this one from out-of-print sources.
Houghton Mifflin
Books for Children, 2010

Pocketful of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes, is illustrated in needlework by Salley Mavor. I'm saddened to report that this much more recent publication, appears to be out-of-print, or perhaps just out of stock. The various characters and scenes, stitched, stuffed, and arranged in glorious panoramas, simply demand repeated viewing, leading to repeated reading of these nursery rhymes. This is one that is likely to remain a favorite, across generations, even as it becomes threadbare and dog-eared.

There's no lack of books using twists and turns, parody's and puns with nursery rhymes as a launching pad. I hope you'll stifle your groans on my own pun to introduce the first of several variants, including THE SPACE CHILD'S MOTHER GOOSE, with verses by Frederick Winsor and Illustrations by Marian Parry. (Simon and Schuster, 1958). Very dry, very British in humor, and the odd little line drawings are as curious as the is the knowledge and perception of space in that bygone era.
Fans of THE ADDAMS FAMILY will be delighted with THE CHARLES ADDAMS MOTHER GOOSE, including original illustrations and photographs by Addams. (Simon and Schuster, 1967). This version uses the original nursery rhyme wording but elicits giggles and gasps from their interpretation through Addams's art. It's oversized in format, in talent, and in fun.
Add caption

Both familiar and lesser-known nursery rhymes are called into play in MOTHER GOOSE: NUMBERS ON THE LOOSE, illustrated by that award-winning duo, Leo and Diane Dillon. The oversized, double-spread format offers colorful action, animated numerals, and a visual story that will delight. Artful design is child-friendly but intricate and elaborate enough to entice the adults who share the book.

Chronicle Books, 2010

Word play abounds in OTHER GOOSE: Re-Nurseried, Re-rhymed, Re-Mothered, and Re-Goosed.... Author J. Otto Siebold also created the lovable series that began with OLIVE, THE OTHER REINDEER. He adopts a similar level of twist and turn in this take on classic rhymes. Familiar characters like Humpty Dumpty find an entirely new life, such as Mr. Dumpty's four-part excursion to the mall Old King Coal, who's a weary old mole... is another example of twisted humor that teens will enjoy.
The oversized, saturated, exaggerated images, fonts, and elaborate layouts make this a marvelous mechanism to work with both traditional and twisted nursery rhymes for older readers.

Another collection that is as timely and current today as it was when it released in 1969 is THE INNER CITY MOTHER GOOSE,  written by Eve Merriam with photo visuals by Lawrence Ratzkin. This original production was a wrenching but recognizable variant on the traditional rhymes, redone to reflect the reality of so many living in "slums", "ghettos", and desperation. It was intended for adults, as an indictment of our corroding cities, but it made its way into high schools and some middle schools, despite its blunt and street-true language and topics.
This is a book that should never go out of print. I'd prefer the reason for that would be its value as historical documentation of the unjust conditions of the past, conditions that had been eliminated. Sad to say, it continues to be even more relevant now than it was originally or when it was reissued in 1996 with cover and spot illustrations by David Diaz. 
Here's an example of why it is still so sadly significant to current times and to movements like Black Lives Matter:

Take-a-Tour, Take-A-Tour, Congressman

Cover the Ghetto, 
As fast as
You can: 

Whisk through, 
Tsk-tsk through,
And file under P:

Now you're 
An expert

Finally, let's travel back from the 1960's to a little 1980 title that's barely longer than the book itself, but still deserves to be read. MOTHER GOOSE COMES TO CABLE STREET: Nursery Rhymes for Today. Chosen by Rosemary Stones and Andrew Mann of Children's Rights Workshop, with illustrations by Dan Jones. It's very few pages long with diverse and lively lillustrations that are as complex and dense as life itself. On the copyright page is a brief note that "in 1586 Mother Goose was buried in a vault under the communion table" at St. Olave's church near the Tower of London. Really, if that doesn't intrigue kids and invite exploration, I can't think what would. 

Whether you need to seek these out at garage sales, through out-of-print outlets, in libraries, or online, they are worth exploring. If you prefer the latest releases there are plenty of those to choose from and share. Please do. Baby shower gifts come to mind, classroom gifts on your child's birthday, or just checking out the collection at your neighborhood library.
Whatever your approach, I hope you'll jump on my bandwagon and support the sharing of nursery rhymes and their variants at every age. 

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