Belly to Belly: Going Up Against Mother Goose

Whether you’re into the cool, hip children’s books like Goodnight iPad and Go the F**k to Sleep (okay, hardly a children’s book) or you’re a fan of the classics like Goodnight Moon, one lady will be unavoidable in your child’s literary rearing: Mother Goose. She’s gifted at showers, she’s at preschool, she’s at friends’ houses… and she’s got issues.

Reading them to my child revived certain memories of my own childhood: my favorite nursery rhyme book, the way the stitching in the illustrations rose off the pages. But some of them I don’t remember. And others that I loved now look completely different in the light of adulthood. Perhaps my brain protected me from the more violent rhymes by blocking them out. Or maybe my mom skipped over them, because she, too, was shocked at the brute force of these tumultuous tales. Or perhaps the same mind that searches the entire house for the cell phone that’s in her pocket could also have conceivably forgotten a few of these over the years.

At any rate, for the more offensive ones, I’ve taken to rewriting some of the words. For other questionable rhymes, I know that Jed’s too young to really derive anything devious or sinister, so I let it slide. But that doesn’t mean I don’t stew.

Here’s a closer look at five nursery rhymes that get my goat goose:

“Goosey Goosey Gander”

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,
So I took him by his left leg
And threw him down the stairs

My line: I said, “That’s okay ’cause I really don’t cares.”

My take: I chose a message of religious tolerance (and tolerance for Royalist sympathizers) over correct grammar.

“There Was An Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe”

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.

My line: Then read them a story

My take: I get that she can’t afford to feed them, but the beating seems unprovoked. Two is too young for gratuitous violence.


Rub a dub dub,
Three men in a tub,
And who do you think they be?
The butcher, the baker,
The candlestick maker.
Turn them out, knaves all three

My take: I don’t have any alternate verses. This one was more about the concept, and in particular the illustration that accompanied the rhyme in our book. Think about it: three old men taking a bath together, each holding a very phallic-shaped object (sausage, baguette and candlestick respectively). Not exactly suitable for small children, but totally over Jed’s head, so we read it anyways.

“Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater”

Peter Peter pumpkin eater,
Had a wife and couldn’t keep her;
He put her in a pumpkin shell,
And there he kept her very well.

My take: Not only does this scream domestic abuse, but Peter is also obviously a sociopath, possibly a serial killer. Can you imagine the media madness that would unfold modern day if it was discovered that a woman was being held captive by her husband? In a pumpkin? “Peter was the nicest man,” said their neighbor, “He helped us clean our gutters every fall.” Freak. Show.

“Humpty Dumpty”

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again

My take: I love that this is one of Jed’s favorite rhymes as I’m obsessed with anything and everything Alice (HD makes an appearance in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass). But Jed gets sad when Humpty Dumpty falls. Well, first he thinks it’s funny, and then his face turns sad, followed by an “Oh no!” and “What to do?” I hate that I don’t have an explanation or happy ending for him. I suppose I could tell him Humpty Dumpty underwent multiple major surgeries, but even if he recovered, I can only imagine what his hospital bill would look like (debt — an entirely different unhappy ending). Is there a tangible lesson that he can learn from Humpty’s misfortune? It’s always good to know not to climb on walls. The best lesson to learn from this rhyme is a simple one. It’s never too early to learn that sometimes, shit poop happens.

What are your favorite nursery rhymes? Do you think some are too violent?

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