Baa, Baa, Black Sheep ... and all that jazz

Rob Reid

John Morgan/Creative Commons
John Morgan/Creative Commons

Given the choice between the stories in his big, oversized Richard Scarry collection and the Mother Goose nursery rhymes found in between the stories, my two-year-old grandson Harris chose the rhymes. And not just any old nursery rhyme. He wanted to sing the ones that came with a tune. So, for a long, long time, well into babysitting duty, Harry sang “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” and “London Bridge” with me and Grandma Jayne over and over, and over and over, for about ... one-billion-ty times in a row.

There’s something about music that makes my grandkids light up. The ancient musical nursery rhymes are as good a place to start as any, along with popular traditional songs like “The Wheels on the Bus,” “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” and “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.” Many of these songs appear in picture-book format, providing not only a good musical foundation for the little ones but also making positive connections to reading in general. I have done extensive research on this through the scholarly process known as “seeing with my own eyes.”

“There’s something about music that makes my grandkids light up. The ancient musical nursery rhymes are as good a place to start as any.”

Side-note regarding the fact that “The Wheels on the Bus” appears in several picture book editions: When my oldest grandson, Parker, was just a toddler, Grandpa Rob, in all his wisdom and experience as a children’s literature expert, went to a local bookstore to buy Parker an age-appropriate book. Once in the foyer of said bookstore where the really cheap books are displayed, Grandpa Rob’s eyes fell upon a flimsily assembled copy of “The Wheels on the Bus” on sale for four bucks and bought it, because, well, Grandpa Rob is a cheapskate. Once Parker got his hands on the new purchase, he went “zwip-zwap” and destroyed the entire book in a nanosecond. Grandpa Rob promptly headed back to the bookstore and bought what is called a BOARD BOOK, a heavily constructed picture book for toddlers consisting of layer upon layer of indestructible material.

I would now like to present my top five picture books that are based on song lyrics. First is that old camp song with the lovely title Catalina Magdelena Hoopensteiner Wallendiner Hogan Logan Bogan Was Her Name, illustrated by Tedd Arnold. Second is the lift-the-flap version of Do Your Ears Hang Low, illustrated by Caroline Church (the lift-the-flap part being gigantic dog ears). Third is the elaborate lift-the-flap / pull-tab / with moveable wheels version of The Wheels on the Bus by Paul Zelinsky. Next is the die-cut holes version of Joseph Had an Overcoat by Simms Taback (credited as the man who designed the very first MacDonald’s Happy Meal box). Finally, check out the silliness of Nadine Bernard Westcott’s I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. By the way, you can find every one of these books through the local public library’s lending system, also known as the greatest invention ever created.

One thing I’ve been known to do the last several years is to make new words to old children’s tunes. The kids recognize the melodies and get big grins on their faces when they realize that something different is going on. Here’s a new version of that old staple “Old MacDonald” titled “My Grandmother.”

“My grandmother had a house, E-I-E-I-O / And in this house, she had a clock, E-I-E-I-O / With a tick-tock here and a tick-tock there, / Here a tick, there a tock, everywhere a tick-tock, / My grandmother had a house, E-I-E-I-O.

“My grandmother had a house, E-I-E-I-O / And in this house, she had a teapot, E-I-E-I-O / With a (make a whistle noise) here, and a whistle-whistle there, / Here a whistle, there a whistle, everywhere a whistle-whistle, /  My grandmother had a house, E-I-E-I-O.

“My grandmother had a house, E-I-E-I-O /  And in this house, she had a rocking chair, E-I-E-I-O /  With a squeak-squeak here and a squeak-squeak there, / Here a squeak, there a squeak, everywhere a squeak-squeak, /  My grandmother had a house, E-I-E-I-O.

“My grandmother had a house, E-I-E-I-O /  And in this house, she had a grandpa, E-E-I-O /  With a (make a snoring noise) here and a snore-snore there, /  Here a snore, there a snore, everywhere a snore-snore, /  My grandmother had a house, E-I-E-I-O.”

I think it’s safe to say that this revision is based on true circumstances. 

Any parent can join in the fun of revising those old songs. For example, instead of singing about a dog named Bingo, showcase a cow named Daisy or a pig named Porky. Instead of rolling your hands for wheels on a bus, how about wheels on a motorcycle and then make a “zoom” noise? There are a lot of traditional songs out there in Kiddysong Land just ripe for transformation. Get started with a wonderful recording by Laurie Berkner that features 51 popular children’s songs: Laurie Berkner’s Favorite Classic Kids’ Songs (Two Tomatoes Records, 2015). Share the traditional versions with young kids and then put a spin on them with your new lyrics.

Now excuse me while I mess around with that old favorite “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep.” Hmm, let me try “Meow, meow, white cat, have you any hairballs?”
Sometimes we adults have to entertain ourselves.

This was made by

Rob Reid  author

Rob Reid is a senior lecturer of education studies at UW-Eau Claire. In addition to writing Children’s Jukebox (ALA Editions 1995/2007), Reid has also written two more books about children’s music: Something Musical Happened at the Library (ALA Editions, 2007) and Shake and Shout: 16 Noisy, Lively S

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