What do Gail Gauthier, Mother Goose, the Jedi religion, Morrissey, and the J. Geils Band have to do with Poetry Friday?

h1 February 2nd, 2007 by jules

{Note: Head here at Big A Little a for today’s Poetry Friday round-up} . . .

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Gail Gauthier’s recent post, “Why Blog Reviews Are Important,” in which she makes the case for reviewing older titles after discovering that her most recently published novel was reviewed — eight months after publication — on two different blogs. Blogs, she writes, can extend the season of a book. In today’s world, the season of a book (or movie or any number of other new events, for that matter) is pathetically short. I won’t go on and on about this, except to say that when Eisha and I created this blog, I never set out to review just new titles. But that’s exactly what I’ve done. Gail’s post is a nice reminder that reviewing older titles “remind{s} readers of books they’d been meaning to read but had forgotten about” (such as this review from this week at the excelsior file, one of my favorite blogs — and if it hadn’t been for Just One More Book’s review of the ’06 re-print of Margaret Shannon’s The Red Wolf, originally published in 2002, who knows how long it would have taken me to find this intriguing picture book).

heavy-words-lightly-thrown.gifOn that note, here’s something else that’s been on my mind, and here’s where the poetry comes in: Mama Goose, which serves as a child’s introduction to poetry. I’ve been reading Chris Roberts’ entertaining Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind the Rhyme (first published in 2004 by Granta Books). I’ve been reading it slooooooooowly, ever since my thoughtful husband gave the 2005 Gotham Books edition to me as a birthday gift. And my oh my is it fun and raucous and witty. It’s not an academic look at the history of Mother Goose, as the author points out. It is, as Bookmunch put it, a “jolly, light-hearted look at a peculiar kind of history.” And you gotta dig a book that takes its title from a Smiths’ song anyway (ah, Morrissey and high school — that takes me back . . . in a, um, rather melancholy way, ’cause it’s . . . well, Morrissey). So, yes, this is a great read: Who knew that the lullaby “Rock-a-bye, baby” could be a warning about hubris? And that “Baa Baa Black Sheep” is all about taxation? And that one saucy explanation for “Jack and Jill” is:

. . . that “up the hill to fetch a pail of water” is actually a euphemism for having sex and that “losing your crown” means losing your virginity . . . So here you have a rhyme about a young couple slipping off for a bit of “slap and tickle” and the regrets that come later.

{And who knew that, according to the 2001 British census, “the Star Wars religion of Jedi makes up 0.7 per cent of the {British} population”? Yes, fun facts abound in Roberts’ book} . . .

And so reading it has got me thinking about my favorite Mother Goose anthologies. The list-lover in me is going to make a list for you now — my attempt at a top-five (this will be tough) — and here’s where I need your help: Heaven only knows I haven’t read them all. So, please do tell (if you’ve made it this far) — what are your favorite Mama Goose anthologies? Please enlighten. Tell me what I’ve missed. I can’t get enough of this stuff, especially the history about it. Here are my favorites:

  1. my-very-first-mother-goose.gifhere-comes-mother-goose.gifMy Very First Mother Goose by Rosemary Wells (originally published in 1996; Candlewick Press) — The very first on my list. Can there be any dispute that this is the mother of Mother Goose books? (I have a feeling there can be, especially from the aforementioned Elzey, and I say that in the spirit of respectful debate, not complaint). Over sixty nursery rhymes with much to pore over in the illustrations, and Iona Opie, the ultimate authority on the Mother Goose tradition (as well as other subjects, such as children’s street rhymes), pulled it all together. Pair it with 1999’s Here Comes Mother Goose by the same pair, and all is well.
  2. the-neighborhood-mother-goose.gifThe Neighborhood Mother Goose by Nina Crews (2003; HarperCollins Publishers) — A fine, fine nursery rhyme anthology with Nina Crews’ photo collages and inimitable touch. Mama Goose in an urban, multi-ethnic setting. Who knew the “fine lady upon a white horse” was really riding a carousel and that Georgie Peorgie is really a playground casanova . . . Lots of action and lots of energy and great fun.
  3. some-from-the-moon-some-from-the-sun.gifSome From the Moon, Some From the Sun: Poems and Songs for Everyone by Margot Zemach (2001; Farrar, Straus and Giroux) — As the story goes, the completed illustrations for a nursery rhyme book were found in Margot Zemach’s estate after she died in 1989. Zemach’s line-and-watercolor art always amuses and radiates a child-like energy. Many lesser-known rhymes are represented in this anthology, including some non-Mother Goose rhymes (“When a big tree falls and people aren’t near/ Does it really make a noise if no one can hear?”). Best of all, there’s a wonderful afterword that includes more illustrations and a note about Zemach’s life.
  4. this-little-piggy.gifThis Little Piggy: Lap Songs, Finger Plays, Clapping Games and Pantomine Rhymes by Jane Yolen with illustrations by Will Hillenbrand and music by Adam Stemple (2006; Candlewick Press) — According to the site of the talented and prolific Jane Yolen, this nursery rhyme anthology was based on an earlier picture book collection of hers, The Laptime Song and Play Book (1989). This collection is expanded from that earlier title, however, with approximately sixty nursery rhymes and finger rhymes and clapping rhymes and etcetera and etcetera and you-name-it. Will Hillenbrand, one of my favorites, adds his playful touch to the collection. Best of all, for annotation nerds like myself, Yolen provides a bit of history for the rhymes on each and every page (oh the research she seems to have put into it! My favorite page includes a “Mary Mack Around the World” column to the right of Hillenbrand’s illustration for “Miss Mary Mack.” I want to find Yolen and hug her for this interesting research, making the book ten times more interesting to adults). She also, I must mention, provides instructions for how parents and children can gesture/play along with the rhymes. Stemple — Yolen’s son — provides original arrangements of a handful of the songs on a CD that accompanies the book. When I put the enthusiastically child-friendly tunes in the CD player, my children drop any and everything they are doing, stand there for a moment of amazed silence, and then run for this book with glee, as if I have just promised them cookies for dinner and a new puppy. ‘Nuf said about that (except that when I can’t get “Have you ever, ever, ever in your long-legged life/ Seen a long-legged sailor with a long-legged wife?” out of my head at three in the morning as I turn over in my sleep, I’m grateful for Eisha’s advice to me: Any time a song is obsessively playing on the record/8-track/iPod of your mind, just start singing “Centerfold” by the J. Geils Band to override the song-that-won’t-go-away. See and listen here for a refresher if you ever need this tip. Nah nah nah nah nah nah . . . My blood runs cold/My memory has just been sold/My angel is a centerfold/My angel is a centerfold. See? It really works). down-by-the-station.gifOh and I know we’re talkin’ anthologies here, but — while we’re on the subject of Mother Goose and Hillenbrand — check out his picture book adaptation of the rhyme “Down by the Station” in which we find out who exactly rides the children’s zoo train early in the mornings (2002; Harcourt Children’s Books). You. can’t. go. wrong. with. this. book. Exuberant, I tell ya. And you can’t go wrong with Yolen’s anthology.
  5. baby-goose.gif

  6. Baby Goose by Kate McMullan and illustrated by Pascal Lemaitre (2004; Hyperion Books for Children) — McMullan here has loosely re-created traditional Mother Goose rhymes to include baby protagonists in each, such as The Baby Duke of York and Baby Foster (who went to Gloucester). It’s baby-centric, as Publishers Weekly put it — and it’s baby-tastic, I dorkily add. Lemaitre’s pen-and-ink drawings are light and fun (very cartoon-like in style). The dancing sausages, who promenade across almost every page after making their first appearance, are . . . well, odd. But it still works. One of my favorites. Much fun to see what these Mother Goose babies are up to in their whimsical, fancy-free nursery rhyme world — with absolutely no adult intervention.

So, there it is. Whose edited anthologies are Honorable Mentions? Lucy Cousins, Tomie dePaola, Helen Oxenbury, Dan Yaccarino, and Clare Beaton for sure (click on the book images to read more information).


And I know I stuck to anthologies, but since I must try to work Sendak into every post, if possible, there’s also his Hector Protector and As I Went Out Over the Water: Two Nursery Rhymes (originally published in 1965). But which anthologies do I need to read now? And any interesting titles on the history of Mother Goose folks can give me? Do tell (if you’ve, uh, made it this far).

If you still have “Centerfold” in your head, my apologies. Happy Poetry Friday to all.

9 comments to “What do Gail Gauthier, Mother Goose, the Jedi religion, Morrissey, and the J. Geils Band have to do with Poetry Friday?”

  1. I am enjoying these posts of “not-so-new” books lately. There are so many books on my hope-to-read-someday list that I miss so many. Lots of times, these posts remind me of those books I missed or helps me find new books that I’d love–even if they are only new to me!
    I enjoyed the post by Gail G. too. Made me think about our blog….

  2. Great post, Jules! Those Rosemary Wells volumes are my favorite. I always buy them as baby gifts.

  3. Franki, I still want to bring new titles to our readers. I might even get some review copies that are sent to me before they hit the bookstore shelves, and in cases like that, it’s nice to give librarian readers, say, a heads-up as to what we think is good. But, yup, Gail’s post made me realize I’m not doing older titles at all, though I never set out to ignore them. And even made me realize how this blogging-about-what-I’m-reading is changing what I’m reading (such as, Oh, I can’t read that – it’s not new) — egads! No! I can’t ignore the older titles. There’s too much to read.

    So, yeah, I’m grateful for her post on that.

    I’m just trying to think of a clever little post title for when we do older titles — Seven Impossibly Hard to Forget Titles to Read Before Breakfast . . . blah blah blah as you can see, I’m having trouble coming up with something good.

  4. My personal favorite is Sylvia Long’s Mother Goose. It is a beautiful book that my daughter and I love to pour over.

  5. .7 percent, eh? Another good reason to move to England….

    Thanks for the post and list. I haven’t seen the Zemach, and I note WPL doesn’t own it — so now I have it on hold. Your other favorites are some of mine, too, which is always nice to see. 🙂

  6. You might be interested in checking out Dr Kay E. Vandergrift’s website:

    Mother Goose: A Scholarly Exploration
    a part of Project ECLIPSE
    (Exemplary Children’s Literature Interface Project for Scholarly Education)

    The songs and chants of Mother Goose are familiar symbols of childhood, bringing joy and comfort to generations of young listeners. Here we trace both verbal and visual variants of Mother Goose rhymes over time and across cultures.


  7. Brilliant poetry friday post, J. I love the Rosemary Wells ones, and of course the Nina Crews.

    Dancing sausages? Really? I’ve got to see that.

    I’m glad my “Centerfold” trick has served you so well! It even works against Raffi, whose songs are in a permanent play-loop in the back of my mind from my time teaching nursery school.

  8. Thanks, everyone, for the suggestions and tips!

    Speaking of Mother Goose CD adaptations, there’s also Sharon, Lois, & Bram’s “Mainly Mother Goose”, which I think is well done. Their CDs are really child-friendly but not too nauseating or “Barney”-like for the adults (well, there’s one of theirs that includes tunes that just teeter on the edge of Too Much For Me, but it’s not the Mother Goose one. And their classic “One Elephant, Deux Elephants” CD is utter perfection and includes a lot of playground rhymes/chants. One of the Top-Five Best Teachers in All the World that I’ve ever worked with made a copy of that CD for me when I was pregnant with my first daughter, and I’m forever grateful).

  9. […] Thrown: The Reason Behind the Rhyme (first published in 2004 by Granta Books). I blogged about it here, back in the Dark, Dark Times When Our Images Were Lamentably […]

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