Nursery Rhymes


One of England’s most enduring forms of oral culture is nursery rhyme. Although we often take these funny little ditties for granted, some of them have been about for a very long time and generally date from the around 16th, 17th, and most frequently, the 18th centuries. Apparently most nursery rhymes were originally composed for adult entertainment. Many were popular ballads and songs.

The earliest known published collection of nursery rhymes was Tommy Thumb’s (Pretty) Song Book, 2 vol. (London, 1744). It included “Little Tom Tucker,” “Sing a Song of Sixpence,” and “Who Killed Cock Robin?” The most influential was Mother Goose’s Melody: or Sonnets for the Cradle, published by the firm of John Newberry in 1781. Among its 51 rhymes were “Jack and Jill,” “Ding Dong Bell,” and “Hush-a-bye baby on the tree top.” An edition was reprinted in the United States in 1785 by Isaiah Thomas. Its popularity is attested by the fact that these verses are still commonly called “Mother Goose rhymes” in the United States

This pathfinder is designed to help you find the full-text, origins, histories, real people and any other interesting tidbits about nursery rhymes on the Internet and/or in your local library.

Print Sources

Here are some useful strategies to help you find books about nursery rhymes in your local public library

  • Subject Search
    • Nursery rhymes
    • Nursery rhymes — History and Criticism.
    • Nursery rhymes — Bibliography
    • Mother Goose
    • Political ballads and songs — England — History and criticism


  • Call numbers
    • Library of Congress — (LC). The Library of Congress Classification System (LC System) is used to organize books in many academic and university libraries throughout the United States and the world. Books on the topic “nursery rhymes” can be found under:
      • Folklore relating to special subjects —— GR 475
      • English literatures —— 17TH-19TH century (PR431-PR469)
      • English literature—History and criticism —— (PR1-PR56)
    • Dewey Decimal Classification — (DDC). Under the Dewey Decimal Classification, favored by most public libraries, books about nursery rhymes are classified under “Old English Literatures”, the assigned Dewey number being 820. You can also check out related topic such as 828 English miscellaneous writings

For books about the Literary Criticism &Analysis of Children’s Rhymes you may want to check these titles:

Iles, Norman. Who really killed Cock Robin? : Nursery rhymes and carols restored to their original meanings. London: R. Hale, 1986.
Saukville-West, Victoria. Nursery rhymes. London, Dropmore Press, 1947.
Green, Percy B. A history of nursery rhymes. Singing Tree Press, 1968.
Eckenstein, Lina. Comparative Studies in Nursery Rhymes. London: Duckworth &Co., 1906.

Suggested Books Collecting Children’s Rhymes

Fowke, Edith. Sally go round the sun; three hundred children’s songs, rhymes and games. NY: Doubleday, (c1969).
Mother’s Gooses melodies: Facsimile edition of the Munroe and Francis “Copyright 1833” version., with a new introduction and bibliographic note by E. F. Bleiler. NY: Dover Publns, c1970.
Opie, Iona &Opie, Peter. I Saw Esau: The Schoolchild’s Pocket Book. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press, c1992, 1st edition c1947.
Opie, Iona &Opie, Peter. The Oxford nursery rhyme book. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977, c1951.
Singing games and play party games, compiled by Richard Chase, Illustrated by Joshua Tolford. New York: Dover Publns, 1967, c1949.

Some good illustrated Books you can read with children

Craig, Helen. I see the moon, and the moon sees me … NY: Willa Perlman Books / HarperCollins, (c) 1992. ISBN 0-06-021453-8; ISBN 0-06-021454-6.
De Paola, Tomie. Tomie de Paola’s Mother Goose. NY: G. P. Putnam &Sons, c1985. ISBN 0-399-21258-2.
Larche, Douglas W. Father Gander Nursery Rhymes. Illus. Carolyn Marie Blattel. Santa Barbara, CA: Advocacy Press [PO Box 236, Dept. A, S.B., CA, 93102], (c) 1985. ISBN 0-911655-12-3.
Ward, Helen. Helen Ward’s Nursery Treasury. Dorking, Surrey, England: The Templar Company, (c) 1995. ISBN 1-898784-55-8.

Internet Sources

Basic searching strategy

Finding information about nursery rhymes on the Internet is easy. Just use your favorite searching engine and search for the keywords “Nursery rhymes”. If you want to search for specific nursery rhymes, use sentences from nursery rhymes may help e.g. search for the keywords “Who killed the coco robin?”

The following resources have been divided into broad categories for easier browsing.

  1. Nursery rhymes websites for parents, teachers and children. These sites include resources dealing specifically with games and songs and illustration about nursery rhymes.

    Nursery Rhymes, Verses and Songs

    Mama Lisa’s Nursery Rhymes (http://www.mamalisa.com/house/)
    Various nursery rhymes with graphics – click on graphics to hear a sound related to the rhyme.
    HPD’s Nursery Rhymes Page (http://www.niteowl.org/kids/hpdcolor.html)
    Nursery rhymes are printed in easy text for children to read. Each rhyme comes with a coloring page picture to print out and color.
    Preschool Nursery Rhymes (http://www.preschoolrainbow.org/preschool-rhymes.htm)
  2. History, criticism and analysis about nursery rhymes.

    A Rhyme and a Reason

    These pages contain the origins, histories, real people and any other interesting tidbits about nursery rhymes.

    The History of Nursery Rhymes and Mother Goose http://www.arts.uwaterloo.ca/ENGL/courses/engl208c/esharris.htm

    History through Nursery Rhymes


  3. Online Nursery Rhymes Collections and lists
    Dreamhouse : Nursery Rhymes (http://www-personal.umich.edu/~pfa/dreamhouse/nursery/rhymes.html)

    Nursery Rhymes List


    Mike’s Collection of Nursery Rhymes (http://www.collingsm.freeserve.co.uk/)


This pathfinder was created by Chen Yen Chuan