Bea's Reviews > The Real Mother Goose

The Real Mother Goose by Blanche Fisher Wright
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Sep 27, 11

bookshelves: childrens-lit

Perhaps a 1729 publication called "Mother Goose's Tales" indeed marks the origin of our modern Mother Goose, but "The Real Mother Goose" has become something epic in it's own right: Blanche Fisher Wright's 1916 illustrated collection of traditional nursery rhymes has thus far enjoyed 16 editions, spanning nearly 100 years of delighting and terrifying nursery school children across America. Large, open text stacks groups of nursery rhymes across each page; each open usually contains at least a full-page ink and watercolor illustration.

The rhymes are unchanged with time, telling the same unyielding tales of woe ("all the king's horses and all the king's men, couldn't put Humpty together again," "pecked off her thumb," "cut off their tails and hung them to dry"), silliness ("intery, mintery, cutery corn"), or naughtiness ("when she was bad she was horrid") we can so glibly recite.

In the interest of full disclosure, I grew up with this book and, in fact, still have today in my possession the battered edition I and my siblings read. However, as a teacher I feel compelled to consider carefully the quality of the material I place in my classroom environment. I am conflicted by "The Real Mother Goose," torn between feeling compelled to pass on a centuries-old oral tradition and appalled by the oft gory, uncompromising or discriminatory nature of the rhymes themselves.

Perhaps an answer for the appropriateness of Mother Goose lies within our present cultural traditions and frameworks: is "The Real Mother Goose" still culturally relevant and accessible to today's generation of children? Arguably, to an increasingly suburban and urban audience, a ditty originally meant to excuse the practical and commonplace practice of removing of a lamb's tail seems horrific and unnecessary at its worst and perhaps merely fantastical at it's best--how many children today know that sheep are born with tails? One could muster up a teaching point and explain, "Well, LuLu, when left in tact, sheep tails grow matted with burs and tangle the valuable wool farmers need to shear from the sheep. Removing their tails keeps the sheep from getting tangled in briars, eliminates the insult of tangled wool, and doesn't hurt the sheep at all, I promise!"

But that, of course, requires the reader/teacher/parent to have considerable working knowledge of the customs at play as well. Seem likely?

While one's experience with the book as a child (and any resulting nostalgia) will certainly play a role in informing adult choice in nursery rhyme material, I remain decidedly on the fence regarding the wisdom of continuing to lengthen dear Mother Goose's days. Perhaps a better collection of nursery rhymes could ne'er be found, but maybe we want to pass over "The Real Mother Goose" for a Native American creation myth next time we're doing a folklore unit.

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