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Mother Goose
Children’s First Literature

Mother Goose
  • Mother Goose Gems (by )
  • Mother Goose's Nursery Rhymes; 
  • The Mother Goose Primer (by )
  • The Study of Literature as a Mode of Exp... (by )
  • Mother Goose for Grownups (by )
  • Denslow's Mother Goose (by )
  • Mother Goose's Menagerie (by )
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The first literature often introduced to children in the Western world consisted of the rhymes and fairy tales published under the anonymous Mother Goose. This fabled wise woman is often depicted as an archetypal country woman or, yes, a goose wearing a peasant dress and shawl.

The rhyming poems and fairy tales attributed to Mother Goose may go as far back as the 10th century, although Eleanor Early, a Boston travel and history writer of the 1930s and 1940s, postulated that Mother Goose was indeed a real person, specifically Elizabeth Foster Goose, the second wife of Isaac Goose. Literary historians, however, discount Early’s claim, citing French texts that refer to Mother Goose as early as 1626.

Charles Perrault is considered the first person to have actually published the collection of rhymes and stories attributed to Mother Goose in 1697. John Newbery, of Newbery Medal fame, was reputed to have published a compilation of English nursery rhymes in the 1760s; however, the first verified edition of poems and stories attributed to Mother Goose was published by Thomas Carnan in the early 1780s. Perrault’s version was translated into English and brought over to the American colonies in 1786.

Not only accorded authorship of nursery rhymes, Mother Goose is also the title character of one:
Old Mother Goose,
When she wanted to wander,
Would ride through the airs,
On a very fine gander.
Jack’s mother cam in,
And caught the goose soon,
And mounting its back,
Few up to the moon.
Mother Goose tales often serve as the fodder for theatrical productions and movies. Authors throughout the centuries have adapted the rhymes and fairy tales to suit the preferences of specific times and regions. Mother Goose rhymes can be found in Mcloughlin Brothers’ Mother Goose Gems, Denslow’s Mother Goose, Mother Goose’s Menagerie by Carolyn Wells, and Mother Goose for Grown Ups by Guy Wetmore Carryl. Regardless of the twists and turns of Mother Goose’s flight through the ages, one thing remains constant: the entertaining and often nonsensical rhymes and stories remain a favorite among children and their parents.

More illustrated versions of Mother Goose rhymes and stories can be found on the World Library’s virtual bookshelves, as well as various critical works about Mother Goose such as The Study of Literature as a Mode of Expressing Life by Emily Curtis Fisher. For a good introduction to the vast Mother Goose oeuvre, check out The Mother Goose Primer.

By Karen M. Smith
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