Book Review Monday: Eloise Wilkin’s Mother Goose

Mother Goose 1Eloise Wilkin’s Mother Goose
Golden Press, NY 1961

Do you have images from your childhood that haunt your dreams? Like that scene in the 1979 Frank Langella Dracula movie where Mina VanHelsing is all undead and vampirey and red-eyed in the crypt, and she’s raising her arms to Dr. VanHelsing saying “Papa… Papa…” in this super creepy voice and Lawrence Olivier is cowering and crying knowing that he has to stake her though the heart?

No? Just me?

The drawings in Eloise Wilkin’s Mother Goose are charming, in a toddling, shark-eyed, demon Hummel figure kind of way. Which is fine; Mother Goose is inherently weird, and the fact that these are abbreviated, one-verse only versions of the rhymes, somehow makes them weirder, like amputations presented as whole bodies. Which leads me to the “Little Boys” rhyme and its accompanying illustration.

I am thinking that terrifying images from nursery rhymes are supposed to be reserved for the Brothers Grimm and some of Hans Christian Anderson, but this freaked me out as a child, so much so that 40 years later, I can still see it quite clearly in my head:

Mother Goose 1 1

Can you see it? Do you see what I mean? How is that OK?

It’s as if this rhyme and its companion “Little Girls” rhyme aren’t abomination enough, so we have to add disembodied puppy tails to the visual. Is the rest of the baby dog lying in a dark basement, whimpering in a pool of blood? Too much? Let’s zoom in:

Mother Goose detail

It’s the little spinal dot in the middle that really gets me.

There they are, all the ingredients you need to make your sweet little boy: legless reptile, legless gastropod, and doggy ass-flap. I suppose you combine this fetid mess in an iron cauldron by a dark river at midnight and chant black speech until your little apple cheeked demon climbs out and eats your soul. But I may be combining narratives here.

Mother Goose 1 2

Little girls are made of water solubles and clothing that makes it harder for them to get away when you are chasing them.

According to Wikipedia, the premiere source for Internet historians, Mother Goose stories go back to the 18th century, and they chronicle such delicious topics as domestic violence, thievery, child abuse, cannibalism (he “put” her in a pumpkin shell), promiscuity without birth control (old woman, shoe, see below), slacking (Little Boy Blue, Little Bo Peep), and rape culture. You know, for kids!

In the world of Mother Goose, an old woman, who is probably 40, has “so many children, she didn’t know what to do,” but apparently knows a giant cobbler, or a giant, perhaps one of the fathers, and she has chosen a large shoe as her domicile. Where did she get all these children? Kidnapping? Being the town comfort? Is she running an orphanage? Is she addicted to the foster system?

“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.”


I despise my life and my choices. But always remember, I hate you for making me do this to you.

Polly Flinders is a stark little rhyme, reminding women that their appearance is more important than their physical comfort, and that if they exert agency, they will be punished with violence.

“Little Polly Flinders
Sat among the cinders,
Warming her pretty toes!
Her mother came and caught her,
And whipped* her little daughter,
For spoiling her nice new clothes.”


(*The version in this book changes “whipped” to “spanked” because spanking is cuter.)

Eventually, someone with either poor reading comprehension or sociopathic tendencies came up with the brilliant idea to name a children’s dress company after this dreadful sextet, and their popular mid-20th century apparel was distinguished by its colorful smocking and smudges of soot and shame.

And then there’s Georgie Porgie. Oh, Georgie, or “Donald Trump,” as he is now identified. I don’t know if there’s a whole lot more to say about this rhyme that hasn’t been said by the media covering the American presidential election of 2016.

Mother Goose 1 4

That’s not just an unwanted bodily assault. He’s stealing her life force.

To be fair to Mother Goose, it’s not all larceny, violence, and sexual assault, just like I am sure there is more to Donald Trump than larceny, violence, and sexual assault. There are “rings on her fingers, and bells on her toes, and she shall have music wherever she goes.” That doesn’t sound so bad. Unless it’s really an elegy about a little girl dying of consumption and how they dressed up her body for the viewing. There is also this little rhyme about “pease porridge,” which is a savory mix of peas, milk, black pepper, and salt, and I want some right now, not nine days after it was made, sitting out on the cupboard, which may account for the lack of life in this small boy’s eyes.

Mother Goose 1 3

Working on this review, I learned that there is a “Christian Mother Goose,” which is probably not filled with slavery, rape, child sacrifice, and capital punishment like the Bible. I’m tempted to get it, but I am sure it’s all treacly nonsense about how Jesus loves the little children and keeps them all warm and cozy and filled with cookies and kisses. And where’s the fun in that?


  1. freemage says

    Before most of the sex assault accusations came out (except for those that pre-date the campaign; no, John McCain, you can’t claim this is some new discovery), I reacted to Donald Trump’s failed Chicago rally like so:

    “Donnie Trumpet, puddin’ pie,
    Came to Chi-Town, spread his lies.
    When people had truth to say,
    Donnie Trumpet ran away.”*

    So the similarity to Georgie Porgie was apparent even back then.

    *: For those who missed this particular early example of Trump’s unfitness for office:

    Trump was on a tour, doing rallies. Chicago was one of the first times he held one outside of his natural turf, a large metropolis with a white minority population and liberal views on women and gay rights. His campaign was so poorly run that they failed to account for that when putting out tickets (which were free). So instead of a handful of brave souls willing and able to travel to rural communities where they’d be vastly out-numbered, enough tickets went to protestors that they were essentially able to fill one entire seating bloc in the stadium.

    Trump immediately blinked, and sent out a flunky to spin a cock-and-bull story about how the Chicago police warned the campaign that it wasn’t safe (the Chicago PD refuted that claim later), and then they told everyone to go home. They then cleared the stadium in one giant push into the streets–meaning you had everyone at peak energy, supporters angry and protestors jubilant, all butting up against one another as the supporters–most of whom had come in via bus from Downstate and the more Trump-friendly Indiana and Wisconsin farmlands–made their way out.

    Needless to say, it was chaos, and jeers turned to shouts turned to blows. All because Donnie couldn’t stand to have his ego confronted by that many people who recognize him for the human shitstain that he is.