Anna Maria she sat on the fire;
The fire was too hot, she sat on the pot;
The pot was too round, she sat on the ground;
The ground was too flat, she sat on the cat;
The cat ran away with Maria on her back.
There's no shortage of Mother Goose books on the market. Two that I like are Tomie dePaola's Mother Goose and Rosemary Wells' Here Comes Mother Goose. (The rhyme above comes from the dePaola book.) While I have only one of these on hand at the moment, I'd think there's some overlap; both author-illustrators use Iona and Peter Opie's classic versions of the rhymes. (The Opies, a husband-and-wife team, interviewed thousands of children and compiled The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, among many other titles.) The pictures are distinctly dePaola and Wells, and such visual treats.
I've had Mother Goose on my mind since I've been reading Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, by Maryanne Wolf, a cognitive scientist and professor of child development at Tufts. Her book looks at how children learn to read—or, in some cases, why they don't learn to read. (I've not gotten to the dyslexia part yet.) Early language development is the most important precursor to reading, Wolf states. ("Early" refers to early in a child's life; she's not using it in the sense of "premature.") I was fascinated to hear what she has to say about nursery rhymes' contribution to the young child's reading brain. Keeping in mind that an example of a phoneme is just the /p/ sound in "pot," listen to this:
In addition to writing [with invented spelling, mentioned earlier in the book], there are other, equally entertaining ways to help children develop an awareness of phonemes. Mother Goose is one. Tucked inside "Hickory, dickory, dock, a mouse ran up the clock" and other rhymes can be found a host of potential aids to sound awareness—alliteration, assonance, rhyme, repetition. Alliterative and rhyming sounds teach the young ear that words can sound similar because they share a first or last sound.
No wonder reciting poetry helped some six year olds with dyslexia! That was the subject of a study I mentioned last summer. I've also noticed that some of my first-grade friends who struggle with reading do not know what a rhyme is.
Based on what I've read so far, I highly recommend Proust and the Reading Brain. Parents, classroom teachers, reading specialists, and everyone interested in children's literacy will find it particularly relevant. Kids will turn the pages of the dePaola and Wells books with glee because the rhymes are fun to hear and the pictures are delightful.
Today's Poetry Friday roundup is at AmoXcalli.