Currently, there are no children in my house either old enough or young enough for nursery rhymes, yet children’s books too numerous to count fill the bottom shelves of my bookcase. So imagine my distress when I read an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer that parents are no longer reading nursery rhymes to their children.
“Too scary,” began the comments from parents.
“Too rhymey.” (No, really?)
Maybe I am alone in my thinking but knowing Humpty Dumpty fell down, broke his crown and all the king’s men couldn’t do a damn thing about it, really didn’t ruin my childhood, or my children’s.
For that matter, regardless of Jack’s weak-footing, I never feared I would go tumbling down and break my crown.
And Little Miss Muffet? I honestly believe if someone suffers from arachnophobia, it has little to do with her particular case.
Nursery rhymes are a part of childhood and are no more “violent,” (one parent’s description, not mine) than television, movies, the Internet, video games, Halloween, coal in your stocking, or, actual reality. We can shield our children as best we can from the horrors of life, but even they can distinguish the difference between the death of “Cock Robin” and the death of a loved one.
Nursery rhymes are merely nonsensical songs to them, ones they can feel pride in memorizing. It’s the very fact that they are “rhymey” that makes them easy to remember. “Georgie Porgie,” “Goosey Goosey Gander,” “Sticks and Stones,” at an early age, titles such as these help us form speech, sing, recognize rhyming, and connect to others who know the exact same words.
Fine, you may choose not to read: “Now I lay me down to sleep…If I shall die before I wake. I pray the Lord my soul to take.” (As my daughter just told me: “Mom, some nursery rhymes ARE actually disturbing.”)
But “Jack Sprat?” He couldn’t eat fat. His wife couldn’t eat lean. So between the two of them they licked the plate clean. Hmmm. A valuable lesson on cholesterol, obesity, nutrition, waste, sustainability, recycling, marriage, compromise, health, sharing, and so on.
Growing up I was never upset by the old woman who had so many children, she didn’t know what to do so she gave them some broth without any bread and then whipped them all soundly and put them to bed. Well, I suppose I may have been if I knew any families living in shoes. But I didn’t.
If we as parents and grandparents stop sharing nursery rhymes great literature may not be far behind. Because as scary as any nursery rhyme may be, none is more so than the classic tales of Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are” or Roald Dahl’s “The Witches.”
And I’m fairly certain that if we stop introducing the works of such literary geniuses to our children, we’re bound to feel pretty awful.
Even worse, I believe, than those three little kittens who lost their mittens.