September 10, 2011

Twinkle Twinkle Little What?!

This is one of my sixteen month old daughter's favorite books. She yells "Tar! Tar!" (star, star) and brings it over to read at bedtime. It's a pretty cute book, full of little rhymes like Diddle, Diddle Dumpling, I See the Moon, and Hush Little Baby. There are pictures of little kids playing and getting ready for bed.

But, to address the what?! part of this post's title, what is up with Goosey, Goosey Gander? If you're not familiar with the lyrics, it goes like this:

Goosey, Goosey, Gander
Whither shall I wander?
Upstairs and downstairs,
And in my lady's chamber.

There I met an old man,
Who wouldn't say his prayers.
I took him by the left leg,
And threw him down the stairs.

From my extensive research (aka quick wikipedia check) it seems that it dates from roughly the time of the Reformation in England. This seems likely, given the history of priest's holes and such. I can see Queen Elizabeth's soldiers checking "upstairs and downstairs and in my lady's chamber," and that a hiding priest who was saying the wrong prayers might be grabbed by the left leg and thrown down the stairs.

From an adult perspective the history behind such "baby" rhymes is fascinating--I like to imagine people whistling the Goosey Goosey Gander tune as a form of protest. Or people singing Ring Around the Rosy to help deal with their grief during the plague. (This is, of course, presupposing that such folkloric histories behind nursery rhymes are based in fact.)

I'm just not sure how to explain all of this to a sixteen month old. So we skip that page, and sing Hey Diddle Diddle twice to make up for it.

What do you think? Do you read the violent nursery rhymes and explain their history? 
Or do you skip the page too? Tell me in the comments!