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July 22, 2012

Why You Can Never Have Too Many Mother Gooses

When Harriet was very small, I read a prescription by Mem Fox, the mother of children’s literacy, that we were to give our children ” at least three stories and five nursery rhymes a day, if not more, and not only at bedtime, either.” And while we were doing just fine in the story department, I realized I really had to pick up the pace in terms of nursery rhymes. As much as nursery rhymes were nonsense, they were also so important to developing literacy skills, in their rhythm and rhyme, and I loved how they connected us back to stories that have been told to children for centuries.

It was around this same time that Mother Goose collections began entering our lives, right when we needed them most. When Harriet was born, my friend Kate had sent us Scott Gustafson’s gorgeously illustrated Favourite Nursery Rhymes from Mother Goose. Not long after, our next door neighbours gave us their old copy of Iona Opie and Rosemary Wells’ My Very First Mother Goose (with characters, we’d realize later, who were Max and Ruby’s forebunnies).

And so we were chugging along with a Mother Goose in the bedroom and a Mother Goose in the living room, which we thought was probably enough Mother Gooses for one small apartment (with Barbara Reid’s board book Sing a Song of Mother Goose tucked in my purse for days out), until our friends Curtis and Laura gave us Richard Scarry’s Best Mother Goose Ever. Excessive, I know, but we kept this copy in the bedroom too, and we loved Scarry’s cats and rabbits, and his collection’s deliciously violent edge.

We picked up a copy of Nursery Rhyme Comics last year, because it was the coolest book we’d ever laid eyes on, and here were all of our favourite rhymes made anew by some of the best comic artists working today. The old woman who lives in the shoe heads a rock band, for example, and it’s the Grand Old Duke of York as imagined by Kate Beaton. We love this book, which isn’t as well thumbed through as all the others because it lives up on the shelf for special (which is often).

And so you might suppose that receiving a second-hand copy of The Arnold Lobel Book of Mother Goose last month would have tipped us into too much Mother Goose, finally, but I don’t think so. We’ve chosen to keep this one in the living room, in case you’re wondering, right next to Iona Opie, and I’ve realized that in our excessive Mother Gooses, my entire parenting philosophy is inherent, the things I want to impart to my daughter most.

First, in that one can never have too many books. Second, that there are many, many versions of the same old story, different words entirely to tell it. Sometimes it’s hickory dickory, and sometimes it’s dickory dickory, is what I mean, and you are even free to make it your own. Third, that we are indeed connected to people who lived hundreds of years ago and told these same stories that we do, and some of them might have even made sense then. That we belong to something larger then ourselves. And then finally, as each of these collections is marvellously illustrated, that the same picture never looks the same to anyone. How different, valid and vivid is each of our separate points of view. That all of our favourite stories and characters are imagined over and over again, and we have to be open minded enough both to respect that, and also to recognize them when they appear.

One thought on “Why You Can Never Have Too Many Mother Gooses”

  1. Panic says:

    True story: My Mom and I would go to the library and get stacks of books for bedtime story. She’d read me a new book each night, and always, always read at least a couple stories from the Richard Scary Mother Goose. So I memorised it. And it’s how I learned to read, matching up the words I knew with the words on the page.

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