Nursery Rhymes

Images Presented in Nursery Rhymes and Children’s Stories

—by Staff,


We recently heard a version of London Bridge that seemed to be more about architectural soundness than about the major time out we remember (We heard: Build it up with stone so strong,my fair lady.  The story we recall goes:  Take the keys and lock her up, my fair lady.)  Traditional Western nursery rhymes are filled with violence.  Thankfully, many of them have been re-written to sound more, well, gentle. 


Of approximately two-hundred nursery rhymes from the average collection, one hundred or so glorify all that is wonderful about childhood.  The remaining hundred make allusions to death by choking, self-inflicted injury, starvation, hanging, drowning, and in at least one instance, death by boiling.  Definitely something you want to keep in mind when buying books for children.  The first few times we went shopping for our little ones, we were taken in by the very appearance of the children's book section—shelf after shelf of age-old tales, many of which we ourelves read as children.  For first-time moms in a culture notably devoid of ritual, handing your child a copy of a book that graced the shelves of your own playroom can almost feel like passing on cultural tradition. 


In the original version of Little Red Riding Hood, the wolf pounces on the little girl and eats her alive.  The witch who captures Hansel and Gretel in that story clearly intends to make a meal out of Hansel, and we’ve all seen versions of the Three Little Pigs in which the wolf dines on the unlucky pigs whose houses didn’t withstand the huffing and puffing.  


Modern versions of nursery rhymes and children’s stories can complicate little ones’ clear understanding of the Grim Reaper because most of them have been edited to exclude the references to mortality that the original versions spoke of so candidly.  Disney has reworked some of the older stories and added a few new ones of its own.  To its credit, Disney’s film releases in the last decade make prominent mention of the role played by the food chain in the daily lives of characters.  A short list of some of our favorite children's videos is available here.

This week we found a book at the library that talks about loss. It’s a nice little story, and a perfect segue to discussions about the death of someone close. How often do people reassure children by promising that they’ll never leave them—a practice bound to lead to misunderstanding when (heaven forbid, but it could happen) little ones try to figure out why those loved ones, abruptly and without explanation, did the very thing they promised they would never do.

And so we've resolved to at least try to read and digest every book we want to give to our kids before they see it—even the ones where we think we already know the story. Once they're off to school, its practically impossible to completely control which books they're reading, and once they go online, parental control software is your only hope. Some preschools actually provide reading lists so that parents can review the books introduced to their toddlers.

Read More About Parent Review of the Nursery Rhymes and Stories Shared With Preschool Students

In the meantime, we'll keep shoring up the bridge with stone so strong, and hoping we're not doing our children a disservice by over-sanitizing their world.

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