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Good News for Mother Goose Readers

Each year, May 1 honors the acclaimed Mother Goose, bringer of children’s fairytales, rhythms and rhymes. Mother Goose Day has been celebrated nationally for about 30 years.

There’s some speculation as to whether or not Mother Goose was ever a real person. But few would challenge the idea that Mother Goose books have been anything other than positive for young minds. Fairytales and nursery rhymes of all sorts have been expanding young minds for centuries.

Experts say nursery rhymes build memory and understanding of concepts. They develop oral language skills, helping children control pitch, tone and rhythm. And they also encourage children to use their imaginations.

Child literacy researchers say a child who knows eight rhymes by age 4 will be at the top of his or her class by second grade.

And there are history lessons in them, too, according to some. And that means some explore some very dark themes. Let’s explore where three of these popular rhymes are thought to have come from:

Humpty Dumpty. Although depicted as an egg in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” it’s thought Humpty Dumpty was actually a cannon. In a 1648 battle between English Royalists and Parliamentarians, the cannon fell from a castle wall and was ruined. Indeed, “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.”

Three Blind Mice. This nursery rhyme is thought to be about the demise of three Protestant noblemen who were plotting against England’s Queen Mary 1—or “Bloody Mary.” Mary, referred to as the farmer’s wife in the rhyme, was a staunch Catholic. And she vehemently opposed the Protestant view. When the noblemen’s plot was uncovered, the three (not actually having mouse tails to be chopped) were burned at the stake.

Ring Around the Rosie. Sung by children for hundreds of years, “Ring Around the Rosie” is thought by some to be about the Bubonic Plague. The disease ran rampant through Europe at different periods beginning in the 1300s. One of the first signs of the plague was a red rash in the shape of a ring. Some people would carry herbs (posies) in their pockets in the belief it would ward off the disease. Infected bodies were burned to ashes to prevent spreading of the plague, also known as The Black Death.

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