Nursery Rhymes Research Papers

Despite the continued popularity of nursery rhymes and the proliferation of collections available for today’s consumers, there remains relatively little academic study of the genre. Vocca 2003 provides a brief overview of the genre and summarizes some of the scholarly approaches that have been taken to the study of this type of children’s verse. Some of the earliest scholarship appeared in early-19th-century collections of rhymes, such as Halliwell-Phillipps 1968 and Halliwell-Phillipps 1886, which include notes offering possible interpretations of the rhymes and information about their origins. Some of these claims have been challenged by later scholars, with Goldthwaite 1996 pointing to some anachronisms evident in Halliwell-Phillipps’s theories about the history and meaning of certain rhymes. Delamar 1987 outlines some of the different approaches to studying nursery rhymes that have been taken over the years, and the text’s bibliographies and index render this work a good starting point for research. Linguistic elements are examined in Schellenberger 1996, and rhymes are considered within the broader context of children’s poetry as a whole. Russell 2009 considers child readers themselves more directly, providing a general overview of nursery rhymes from the perspective of an educator and considering how they may affect children. The most significant effort to provide a rigorous, scholarly analysis of nursery rhymes remains the work done by Iona and Peter Opie, first published in the mid-20th century. Opie and Opie 1997 addresses some of the inaccuracies in the work of early scholars, and contributes significantly to our understanding of the oral tradition, the early publication history of the rhymes, the vast range of verses available, and possible ways of interpreting and analyzing this genre of children’s literature.

  • Delamar, Gloria T. Mother Goose: From Nursery to Literature. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1987.

    E-mail Citation »

    Good introduction to the study of nursery rhymes that begins with a clear historical overview. Engages with other scholarship and outlines various approaches to analyzing nursery rhymes. Its chronological bibliography of important Mother Goose books, annotated bibliography of secondary sources, and clear index make this book a useful tool for those beginning research at any level.

  • Goldthwaite, John. “The World Three Inches Tall: Descent of the Nursery Rhyme.” In The Natural History of Make-Believe: A Guide to the Principal Works of Britain, Europe, and America. By John Goldthwaite, 13–44. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

    E-mail Citation »

    Provides a straightforward historical overview of nursery rhyme publication, illustration, and scholarship. Outlines early-18th-century publication history, including Puritan influences. Includes helpful discussion of early criticism and reception of nursery rhyme collections, including a critique of James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps’s 19th-century theories about the origins of different rhymes.

  • Halliwell-Phillipps, James Orchard. The Nursery Rhymes of England. 5th ed. London: Frederick Warne, 1886.

    E-mail Citation »

    First published in 1842, this book is an extensive collection of traditional rhymes divided into eighteen categories. Some rhymes have brief annotations about their origin and meaning, although later scholars have questioned the accuracy of these. Illustrated by W. B. Scott. This edition has been digitized and is available online through sites such as Project Gutenberg and Also see Origins, Historical Interpretations, and Hidden Meanings.

  • Halliwell-Phillipps, James Orchard. Popular Rhymes and Nursery Tales: A Sequel to the Nursery Rhymes of England. Detroit: Singing Tree, 1968.

    E-mail Citation »

    Anthology of assorted rhyme and tales gathered from a largely rural, oral tradition. Includes substantial commentary on the meanings and origins of the rhymes. One of the earliest examples of nursery rhyme scholarship, this influenced much subsequent work on the topic, though scholars such as Goldthwaite have critiqued anachronisms evident in Halliwell-Phillipps’s interpretations. Originally published in 1849 (London: Smith), this book is available online through Project Gutenberg and Also see Origins, Historical Interpretations, and Hidden Meanings.

  • Opie, Iona, and Peter Opie. The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes. 2d ed. Oxford: Clarendon, 1997.

    E-mail Citation »

    Originally published in 1951, this foundational work in the field of nursery rhyme scholarship remains one of the most comprehensive reference tools available. Introduction provides an overview of different types of rhymes, their origins in the oral tradition, and the history of their appearance in literature in Great Britain and the United States. Includes several hundred rhymes arranged alphabetically and comprehensive notes on sources, variations, and possible meanings. Also see Anthologies and Origins, Historical Interpretations, and Hidden Meanings.

  • Russell, David L. Literature for Children: A Short Introduction. 6th ed. Boston: Pearson, 2009.

    E-mail Citation »

    Basic introduction to different periods and genres of children’s literature. Chapter 6, “First Books” (pp. 111–133) will be helpful to new education students as it touches briefly on frightening and violent elements of nursery rhymes; their role in cognitive, aesthetic, social, and physical development; and nursery rhyme illustration.

  • Schellenberger, Kirsti. “From Mother Goose to the Modern World: Contextualizing the Development of Children’s Poetry.” MA thesis, Simon Fraser University, 1996.

    E-mail Citation »

    Explores rhymes as responses to communal experiences, examines their unifying features, and outlines some of their psychological and social functions. Includes linguistic analyses of select rhymes and a consideration of how children’s poetry is defined according to changing social contexts.

  • Vocca, Donarita. “Mother Goose.” In The Continuum Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature. Edited by Bernice E. Cullinan and Diane G. Person, 560–562. New York: Continuum, 2003.

    E-mail Citation »

    A concise overview of the history of Mother Goose rhymes from their roots in the oral tradition to the 20th century. Includes a summary of the different critical approaches to the study of nursery rhymes and an outline of some of the earliest published collections of rhymes.

  • Please, wait while we are validating your browser


    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *