We’ve had this book of nursery rhymes since my oldest was a baby. It’s a board book with bright colors. All three of my kids have enjoyed it.
But have you ever actually listened to nursery rhymes? Sometimes they don’t make a whole lot of sense. Like why would a feather be called macaroni, Yankee Doodle? And we always picture Humpty Dumpty as an egg, but the words never mention that.
Other nursery rhymes can straight up be violent, and I would always just skip those. Then one day, the kids were old enough to realize I was passing over a few pages. Of course, they asked why. When I told them I wasn’t comfortable with some of the nursery rhymes, that made them more interested.
So I took a deep breath and read, “Goosey Goosey Gander, whither shall I wander? Upstairs and downstairs and in my lady’s chamber. There I met an old man who would not say his prayers. I took him by the left leg and threw him down the stairs.”
Something happened. My kids had questions, and then we talked about it.
“Who was this person? Aren’t we supposed to treat the elderly with respect? Why wouldn’t this person just ask the old man to say his prayers? What about adding “please” instead of throwing someone down the stairs? Why does this person even care if the old man says his prayers or not?”
The kids took it a step further and decided to re-write the nursery rhyme:
Goosey Goosey Gander, whither shall I wander? Upstairs and downstairs and in my lady’s chamber. There I met an old man who would not say his prayers. So I turned off his light and told him goodnight.
We all decided we liked their version better.
Since that led to a thoughtful discussion, I went on to the next nursery rhyme that I usually skip, “There was an old woman who lived in a shoe. She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do. She gave them some broth without any bread, Then whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.”
Again, they had questions, and we talked about it.
“It doesn’t say anywhere here that the kids did anything to deserve punishment, especially to be whipped. They only had broth for dinner? They got whipped and are probably hungry? Also, why do they live in a shoe? How do they all fit? It must be the giant’s from Jack and the Beanstalk.”
Here’s the updated version they came up with:
There was an old woman who lived in a shoe. She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do. So she asked for some help and feed them soup with bread. Then she hugged them tightly and put them to bed.
We’ve since read fairytales and talked about why the princess doesn’t have to marry the first prince she meets. We all know where bacon comes from, thanks to that book about pig farming. A Captain Underpants book incited a frank conversation about bullying. Sometimes my kids have questions that I am unsure how to answer. I’ve had to say “I don’t know.” or “Let’s look it up.” A LOT.