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Nshima & Curry
Nshima & Curry
THE NICE OLD WOMAN IN THE SHOE
my daughters enjoy a story or nursery rhyme that I
enjoyed as a child, it gives me a certain thrill, makes me
feel that their childhood isn't too different from mine,
despite the fact that mine occurred in the dark ages, when
books were etched on stone.
Those were indeed primitive times. Stories and rhymes didn't
protect us from the evils of the world. We had to read, for
example, about the old woman who lived in a shoe and her
terrible mistreatment of her children: "She whipped them all
soundly and put them to bed." I know what you're thinking:
"How could anyone be so cruel? Wasn't it bad enough that the
children had to deal with the social stigma of living in a
Thankfully, the old woman who appears in my daughters' books
has been rehabilitated, perhaps through many hours of
therapy. Nowadays, she treats her children rather well: "She
kissed them all sweetly and sent them to bed."
But she still lives in a shoe and feeds her children broth
without bread, whereas, a few pages later, Little Miss
Muffet is eating curds and whey. Hopefully, by the time my
grandchildren read these rhymes, the gap between the rich
and poor won't be so wide.
Miss Muffet may have been rich, but she still had to deal
with the big spider who "sat down beside her and frightened
Miss Muffet away." I know what you're thinking: "That's
horrible! How could this happen? Miss Muffet needs to get on
the phone and fire her pest control guy."
Thankfully, children today can read the book "Positively
Mother Goose" and meet a kinder, gentler spider. This spider
"sat down beside her and brightened Miss Muffet's whole
day." The rhyme ends on that happy note, but hopefully, by
the time my grandchildren read it, Miss Muffet will invite
the spider to share her curds and whey. And maybe the spider
will teach Miss Muffet how to build a good web site.
Then there's the tale of the three little pigs. In my day,
the first two pigs met a tragic fate at the hands of the big
bad wolf. He didn't just blow their houses down, he even --
don't read any further if you're squeamish -- ate them for
dinner. I know what you're thinking: "How shocking!
Children's books should not be promoting the consumption of
pork. Especially when a large segment of the population
considers it offensive."
Thankfully, my children read about a wolf who isn't quite so
hungry. He merely blows the pigs away. But he's still not
the model citizen we expect children to read about.
Hopefully, by the time my grandchildren read this story, the
wolf will call a press conference to apologize to the pigs
and promise to enroll in anger management classes.
As we strive to improve children's literature, let us give
credit to the teachers at a nursery school near Oxfordshire,
England, who are getting the children to sing not just "Baa
Baa Black Sheep," but also "Baa Baa White Sheep." And just
in case that isn't inclusive enough, teachers at two other
nurseries are getting children to sing "Baa Baa Rainbow
We should also give thanks to Sarah M. Giles and Sarah Shea,
whose December 2003 article in the Canadian Medical
Association Journal shed light on some important medical and
safety issues in nursery rhymes. "In the case of Humpty
Dumpty," they wrote, "we question whether 'all the king's
horses and all the king's men' were capable of launching an
appropriate medical intervention after Mr. Dumpty's
unfortunate accident. What sort of EMS training and
equipment did these first responders have? ... The presence
of 'all the king's men' also suggests a shocking lack of
crowd control. Could the crowded scene explain the inability
of the responders to 'put Humpty together again'?"
Their article was, of course, tongue-in-cheek. But
hopefully, by the time my grandchildren read this rhyme, the
emergency response will be better: "All the king's doctors
and all the king's nurses managed to put Mr. Humpty together
again. And he married the old woman in the shoe and they
lived happily ever after."
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