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tales behind nursery rhymes

festival stories
tales from history
the classics retold
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books by Rohini Chowdhury

Nursery rhymes are songs or poems sung or chanted by adults to small children. Such rhymes are found in all cultures across the world. Most of these rhymes belong to the oral or folk tradition - which means that they are passed on from person to person, generation to generation by word of mouth and memory. Only in modern times have such rhymes begun to be written down.

But there is more to traditional nursery rhymes than meets the eye. Very few of these rhymes really began as children's rhymes. Some refer to historical events, some lampoon real people; others are leftovers from ancient charms and rituals, while some are riddles and proverbs meant originally for adults. Sometimes a nursery rhyme is actually a verse or chorus from a popular ballad or stage song that has remained in popular memory. And sometimes it has even happened that a rhyme that has first been written, has contrarily left print and entered the oral tradition.

So here are a selection of nursery rhymes and the tales behind them for you to explore.

Rhymes from England and America

        Ring a ring o' roses

        London Bridge is Falling Down

        Little Miss Muffet

        Mary Had a Little Lamb


Did you know?

Mother Goose

The term 'nursery rhyme' was adopted in England in the first half of the nineteenth century.

'Mother Goose', or 'Tommy Thumb's songs' or 'ditties' were earlier terms.

'Mother Goose Rhymes' is the term still used in America.










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Last updated: April 2010.
'Mother Goose' image copyright © Natlalie Spong, 2010. Site Copyright © Rohini Chowdhury 2002. All rights reserved.

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