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Sharing Mana‘o

One of the perks of being a professional storyteller is doing the research, collecting information and ideas. Several times a year, I find gently used treasures at the Maui Friends of the Library bookstore and newly minted gems at other shops. My bookshelves are beginning to sag under the weight of folk tale anthologies, classic and contemporary mythology, and Hawaiian history texts.

On the most recent of my bookstore visits, I wandered into the children’s section at Barnes & Noble and splurged on a couple of deluxe hardcover beauties: “Aesop’s Fables” (The Classic Edition) and “The Real Mother Goose.” I’ve already gotten my money’s worth in warm fuzzies, curling up at bedtime with these throwbacks to my childhood. “The Real Mother Goose” was originally published in 1916, and this Scholastic Inc. reprint includes the original illustrations by Blanche Fisher Wright and over 300 nursery rhymes; many more than in my first Little Golden Books copy.

Old Mother Goose, when she wanted to wander,

Would ride through the air on a very fine gander.

I remember that one being on either the first or last page of the LGB book. I didn’t like it because it didn’t rhyme, even though it looked like it should. I’ve always been partial to the moon-spoon-June style of poetry. After all, isn’t that why they’re called nursery RHYMES?

Happily, most of the entries in “The Real Mother Goose” do rhyme perfectly.

Molly, my sister, and I fell out,

And what do you think it was all about?

She loved coffee and I loved tea

And that was the reason we couldn’t agree.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a half-dozen or so limericks, too.

There was an old man of Tobago

Who lived on rice, gruel, and sago,

Till, much to his bliss,

His physician said this:

“To a leg, sir, of mutton, you may go.”

That raised the question of whether Mother Goose was influenced by Edward Lear, who is widely known as the father of limericks, or vice versa. And just who was the real Mother Goose, anyway? I searched online and found several theories but no conclusive data.

According to The Poetry Foundation, some claim that the original Mother Goose was a woman in Boston, named either Elizabeth Foster Goose or Mary Goose, depending on who’s telling the story. After being widowed, Mrs. Goose moved in with her eldest daughter’s family and began entertaining her grandkids and the neighborhood children with made-up rhymes and jingles, which her son-in-law eventually published. It’s a sweet story, but as fanciful as the cow who jumped over the moon.

In the mid-1600s, the name “Mother Goose” was commonly used in France to describe women who delighted children with storytelling. History.com traces the etymology back to the eighth century and the emperor Charlemagne’s mother. Bertrada of Laon was a patroness of children, often called “Queen Goose Foot” or “Goose-foot Bertha” because of an unfortunate foot malformation.

Both the Poetry Foundation and History.com websites acknowledge Charles Perrault as the first to publish a collection of stories attributed to Mother Goose, in 1697. Perrault’s “Contes de ma Mere l’Oie (Tales of my Mother Goose)” was translated into English in 1729 by Robert Samber and titled “Histories or Tales of Past Times, Told by Mother Goose.”

But it was John Newbery and his “Mother Goose’s Melody, or, Sonnets for the Cradle” that solidified the association of Mother Goose with children’s poetry, rather than folk and fairy tales. I guess I have him to thank for the rhyming couplets, my favorite features in “The Real Mother Goose.”

Jerry Hall, he was so small,

A rat could eat him, hat and all.

* Kathy Collins is a radio personality (The Buzz 107.5 FM), storyteller, actress, emcee and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is kcmaui913@gmail.com.