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Mother Goose

As pictured on the covers of numerous nursery rhyme books, Mother Goose is an old woman with a magic wand, tall hat, and flowing cloak who rides through the air upon a goose. Popular child verses and songs like "Baa, Baa Black Sheep," "Jack and Jill," and "Humpty Dumpty" have been attributed to her, but she never existed, nor did any of the stories she is now associated with begin with any single individual.

cover of an early Mother Goose book
cover of an early Mother Goose book

In 1697, Frenchman Charles Perrault published Histoires, ou Contes du temps passe (Histories or Tales of Long Ago, with Morals), a collection of eight popular fairy tales -- including "Sleeping Beauty," "Cinderella," "Little Red Riding Hood," and "Puss in Boots." The book's frontispiece showed an old woman spinning and telling stories, with a placard above her bearing the words Contes de Ma Mere L'Oye (Tales of My Mother the Goose). The first known publication of Perrault's book into English, by Robert Sanders in 1729, translated the words on the placard as Mother Goose's Tales, and Mother Goose has been associated with fairy tales ever since.

frontispiece of the first 'Mother Goose' book
frontispiece of the first 'Mother Goose' book

Although Sanders's book was the first known "Mother Goose book," it was John Newbery, the first English publisher of children's books, who made Mother Goose an iconic character. About 1765, he published Mother Goose's Melody: or Sonnets for the Cradle, a tiny book illustrated with woodcuts. The book contained 52 rhymes, including "Ding Dong, Bell," "Little Tom Tucker," and "Margery Daw," as well as 15 songs from Shakespeare's plays. This collection became extremely popular, and before long copies and imitations of Newbery's book were being sold across England. Isiah Thomas, a publisher in Worcester, Massachusetts, republished Newbery's book in 1785.

SEE ALSO
Charles Perrault

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