Long ago I mentioned that nursery rhymes were often originally disguised political statements from an era when freedom of speech didn’t exist. I understand people at fairs and street markets would chant or sing them in public to gather support without endangering themselves. (Of course lots of non-political rhymes were probably also shared that way.)Ordinary people in those days didn’t know how to read and write English, much less music notation. Although the words of many rhymes and both words and melodies of many folk songs were passed on by oral tradition we have no record of tunes to go with most nursery rhymes. Even those we now sing were usually set to music in the last century or two.It seems likely to me that the things we now call nursery rhymes were probably not sung at all, but called out in rhythmic speech, possibly accompanied by instruments like hand drums people could make themselves. If so, they must have sounded a lot like what we now call Rap music. Even the meter is often similar. Can’t you imagine “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall” done as rap? And I understand that rhyme was actually about overthrowing the king so it certainly wasn’t meant to be sung to children in nurseries.
When I was a kid my grandfather lived with us and often told us stories about his youth and childhood growing up in San Francisco in the 1800s. Gramp (as we called him) had worked for Wells Fargo Railway Express in San Francisco and had often heard the detective Harry Morse tell visitors in the lunch room about how he had caught the bandit, Black Bart. This week I bought the book, Black Bart Boulevardier Bandit by George Hoeper, and enjoyed reading it. My grandfather had told us the detective who had caught Black Bart had done so by finding a shirt cuff with a laundry mark and tracing it through the laundry in San Francisco used by that outlaw. Back in that time laundry was done by hand and people wore the same clothes all week, except for Sundays. Men’s shirts had detachable collars and shirt cuffs that were changed every day to look clean. Other things I’d read about Black Bart had said the detective had found the laundry mark on a handkerchief. This book says Harry Morse had found both shirt cuffs and a handkerchief with the laundry mark. That is probably correct. I once knew a kid who turned out to have an anti-social personality disorder. In other words, he was a psychopath. Hoeper’s book shows that Black Bart had similar personality traits. I wish George Hoeper was still alive so I could tell him how much I enjoyed his book.
Did you know nursery rhymes weren’t originally written for children? Many of them were coded political statements back when freedom of speech didn’t exist. For example, I believe Humpty Dumpty was about overthrowing a king. And, back in the Middle Ages, most people didn’t have the kind of musical instruments we often use. The common folk would make drums with animal skin over wooden or clay bases. They could make flutes with holes in hollow branches or reeds, and bang sticks together. Criers would walk around town using those instruments and chanting the rhymes to get attention for their political beliefs without getting arrested. There are a lot of nasty politics in the world, especially in the last few years, but at least we’re free to discuss them.
Carl Watson is an educator who has written a book about a boy who has become deaf.The plot is interesting and, at times, exciting and the characters are believable. Some of the descriptions of signs he uses are a bit difficult to picture because those descriptions need to flow without taking the reader out of the story. As someone fluent in American Sign Language that bothered me a bit, but most young readers shouldn’t have a problem with it. I especially like that Silent Journey will help readers think about what it must be like to be unable to hear while enjoying the characters and story. Silent Journey would be a great book for school libraries.
Recently I’ve been reading a series of books from the library by Trudi Truett. The series is called Explorer Academy and it’s about a group of kids who travel around the world to be learning, but must also cope with evil villains and scary dangers. Each book (I’ve only read some of them so far) has a VERY exciting plot. The characters are kids I care about and the sci-fi devices they use and seek are fascinating. This series is published by National Geographic, and subtly teaches about environments, wildlife and ecology around the world without being at all teachy-preachy, since that information is important for the young explorers to know while avoiding dangers and trying to reach their goals. I think every kid should read this series. Now I can’t wait to get back to the library and find the next one.
Kelly Yang has written a book all Middle Grade kids should read. Three Keys is about Mia Tang, who lives and helps her parents with the Calivista Motel in Southern California. Mia Tang has friends of various ethnic backgrounds and some of them are likely to be deported to Mexico. This well written book helps the reader to understand what it’s like to be a victim of racial prejudice while enjoying the exciting plot and getting to know the believable characters.
Today is the first day of the month of May, and is often called May Day. May Day is known as a call for help because the French phrase, m’ aide’ (I’ve forgotten how to spell it correctly) meaning ‘help me”, is pronounced like May Day. When I was a kid sometimes I’d see performances of girls in pretty dresses dancing around a may pole. Each girl would hold a long ribbon fastened to the top of the pole and the ribbons would become woven around the pole as they danced. It’s possible that similar dances were held in Europe centuries ago as a form of worship to pagan gods. I won’t discuss how that combined with the season of Spring and fertility. 2020 seemed like the longest year in the history of the world, but I’m surprised – and pleased – that 2021 is 1/4th over and enjoying this beautiful season.
I’ve shared this story on Earth Day in previous years, but think it might be new to some people who read it. Back in the 1970s I was working at California School for the Deaf when we had an infestation of head lice. None of us had ever heard of those critters before since they hadn’t been in our state. We tried everything to get rid of them, but nothing worked. Finally someone went down to the Public Health Department and they gave us a substance to use that would probably get rid of the lice, so we spent the very first Earth Day (it was a local thing that year) putting DDT on the heads of all the children. It worked.