There was an old lady who swallowed a fly....

Mary - posted on 02/19/2011 ( 75 moms have responded )

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Once a week, I take my toddler to story time at our local public library. We both absolutely love it! It is the same little library I went to with my mother as a child, and I simply adore rediscovering all of the stories, songs and rhymes that I remember so fondly from my own childhood.

This past week, the Librarian did There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, complete with a an old lady puppet who "swallowed" little a stuffed fly, spider, bird, cat, dog, cow, and finally, the horse.
I was so excited - I had loved this song as a child! However, I struggled a bit with the words.

I guess, in an effort to make it a little kinder for the toddler crowd, they changed the words. Instead of singing "I guess she'll die", it became "I guess she'll cry".

Later that day, I posted something about it on my FB status, and was amused to see the number of responses. One of my friends (whose boys are now in college) responded by saying "I call that dumbing it down."

I honestly don't know what I think. A lot of the fairy tales, nursery rhymes, and songs I grew up with did have some unpleasant, or even violent turns in them, if you really stop to analyze them. And yet...I have no memories of being either scarred or even scared by them.

Should some of these older stories be altered for toddlers?

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[deleted account]

well i dont want to hear a 4 year old running around singing about niggers and indians...learning about racial discrimination throughout history is completely different than teaching our children derogatory terms.

Angela - posted on 02/19/2011

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No,I dont think they should be altered.
We Need to be real with our children about everything,cause if we arent they end up growing up in a fantasy world.
Most of the time if a toddler/child doesent know what a particular word means they will ask the parent, and its the parents responsibility to explain it.
Its just like this commercial that I saw on T.V. the other day,I forgot what it was for,but it was all these children asking where babies come from and this little girl says "My Mommy says babies come from Hugs" and I Did a Double take and I was like what? I mean I know its just a commercial,but I know there has to be parents out there that tell their children things like that,and I just think Dumming down anything to our children is detrimental to their development instead of being helpful.

Jenni - posted on 02/19/2011

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I find it a bit strange how much we shelter our children from death (a natural part of life) in today's society. Almost every old nursery rhyme and fable ended in someone dying. I guess in an attempt to drill home lessons: Don't take candy from strangers, Or you'll DIE!!! (Hanzel and Gretal). Or ring around the rosie that originated from the Great Plague. I guess life was more fleeting back then and death was more familar.
It is funny how our culture shields children in some ways but completely exposes them in others. I guess because there's no profit in commercialism for death.....

Jenni - posted on 02/21/2011

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Hmmm interesting... apparently Rock a Bye Baby has an american origin. Native Americans use to hang their cradles in tree branches to protect them... I imagine against bears, wolves, snakes, cougars, etc.

Stifler's - posted on 02/20/2011

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Yes I do think it's inappropriate to encourage rhymes with nigger and stuff in them. But changing 'how gay your life must be' to 'how happy your life must be?' that is ludicrous. Gay still means happy in the dictionary last I checked.

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[deleted account]

hmm my grandmother is cornish and her and her mother have only ever told me the whiskey story...strange but it goes to show theres many different stories

Sal - posted on 02/24/2011

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i've always known the cannon version, but we are from gool convict stock down here

[deleted account]

Sarah Humpty Dumpty was a canon in England during the English Civil war, the wall under it was damaged and the cannon fell - the kings men used their horses to get it back onto the wall but couldn't.

[deleted account]

apparently humpty dumpty is a brandy drink boiled with ale...could be the bottle falling off the wall

Iris - posted on 02/22/2011

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I'm from a Country full of stories of trolls and evil elves. During Christmas time, you have to be good because if you are naughty "Gryla" (a troll) would put you in her sack, take you up in the mountain and eat you and the other naughty kids.
We also had he Christmas Cat. If you didn't get any new clothes before Christmas, it would come and eat you.

We also have a lot of stories about elves switching out our infants and destroying us with one wish.

I was brought up with fairy tails like Hansel and Gretel, where their parents left them out to fend for themselves and the wicked witch was making Hansel bigger so she could eat him. All the Grimm's fairytails and the HC Andersen without the PG.
And I consider myself fairly normal after all these stories.
So, swallowing a fly and die...... I think our children can get pass it without even a light trauma.

[deleted account]

Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet eating her irish stew, along came a spider and sat down beside her so she ate him up too.

[deleted account]

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, all the kings horses and all the kings men said "stuff him, he's only an egg"!!

[deleted account]

Of all the abuse I was handed as a child I can say, at least not in memory, my native mother never hanged me from a tree. ; ) ***Thanks God for small blessings*** ; )

[deleted account]

I was in the library earlier and picked up a Ring o Ring o Roses book and they have changed the line - ashes in the water, ashes in the sea to fishes in the water, fishes in the sea - what was so harmful about ashes I don't understand why the author felt the need to change that one line considering what the entire poem is about in the first place it just doesn't make any sense to me.

[deleted account]

ahh its like in ring a ring a rosie its "they all jumped down" when i was taught "and we all fall down" cos theyre dead from the black plague :| personally i like the original

Sneaky - posted on 02/21/2011

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Have you watched the 'Wizard of Oz' lately???? It was one of my favourites as a child and now I watch it with my family as my husband points out the first degree murder Dorothy and the Wizard plan of the Wicked Witch . . . . . just to start with, there are more disturbing incidents!

[deleted account]

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, all the kings horses and all the kings men said " oh shit, not scrambled eggs again" !

Meghan - posted on 02/20/2011

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When we sing those songs, I don't think of anything other than how much he is enjoying it. He certainly doesn't find anything morbid in it-great thing about toddlers. Like Mary said in the OP, I wasn't scarred by finding out what the context or meaning in the songs were, I doubt J will be either.

Johnny - posted on 02/20/2011

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I had that first one on my bedroom wall as a kid. It was a cross stitch that my Grandmother (who is ironically an atheist) made for me. It was this cute little girl praying in front of a puppy and some flowers.

I was thinking of another one that I always sing to my daughter that is a bit "death-like":

Rock-a-bye baby
In the tree top
When the wind blows
The cradle will rock
When the bow breaks
The cradle will fall
And down will come baby
Cradle and all

She loves it and so did I when I was her age. I think I was around 10 when it occurred to me that my mom was singing about a baby falling out of a tree.

[deleted account]

The words to children's prayers have even been changed. It used to be:
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

And now it's:
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
Lord be with me through the night
And keep me til the morning light.

The newer version is nice too but it's funny that people are afraid to mention death to a child anymore. My kids(3&4) wouldnt understand what it (death, die) meant anyway.

[deleted account]

a pocket full of posies was for the people who were already infected, they stunk from the plague so the flowers would hide the smell.

[deleted account]

Thanks for looking up "ashes ashes" Cathy.

I'd never heard the Koockburra song until recently. It's on one of my daughter's CD's and the words are "how gay your life must be."

Anyone ever read the original "Little Black Sambo"? The illustrations and the dialect it was written in were considered racist. That's been changed too. I'm almost positive there were no derogatory remarks in the original. You can barely get an original anymore, but my mom happened to keep hers.

[deleted account]

I always sing this version of Ring o Ring o Roses

Ring o ring o roses - (the ring rash when you had the plague)
A pocketful of posies - (to protect against the plague)
Atishoo, Atishoo we all fall down - (was to signify having the plague and dying)

Ashes in the water, ashes in the sea - (the Great Fire of London)
We all jump up with a one, two, three - (people who survived because the Great fire ceased the spread of the plague).

I used to Love Mary Mary Quite Contrary (based on Mary 1st of England aka Bloody Mary) which is brutal when you know the meaning but I didn't understand it until I was much older and only once it was explained to me. I think that if a rhyme uses derogatory phrases such as the ones discussed earlier then yes they are right to change them but otherwise keep the rhymes the same.

[deleted account]

@cathy



Mary had a little lamb, her father shot him dead, now mary takes her lamb to school between to hunks of bread.

Jenni - posted on 02/20/2011

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Yeah... I understand not sheltering children from history but they shouldn't be running around singing derogatory nursery ryhmes.

Nikki - posted on 02/20/2011

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I remembered another one, Eenie meenie miny moe, catch a nigger by the toe. Nigger was replaced by tiger. I agree with the change in this rhyme. The original version is rather disrespectful today.

[deleted account]

Re the ten little Indians - Agatha Christie's novel was originally published in the UK as "Ten Little Niggers." It was published in the US under the title of "Ten Little Indians" and also "And then there were none." I think 'Ten Little Soldiers" may have got a mention somewhere, too!

I read this novel first as "Ten Little Niggers," so I've always thought of it with that name. This title is based on the old nursery rhyme Ten little Niggers, and the events that take place are based on the words of this nursery rhyme. So changing the title has messed up all the references!
I think it's ridiculous to keep changing things to make ourselves feel better - our kids deserve to know how people felt and believed at various stages in history.

Jenni - posted on 02/20/2011

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I guess there are plenty of disney movies that deal with the concept of death.

My 2 year old loves finding Nemo and always asks me "Where'd Coral (Nemo's mom) go?" She gets eaten by another fish before Nemo is born. So that's what I tell him. I don't soften it up for him. That other fish was hungry and she got eaten by him. Now when we eat fish he tells me he's eating Nemo. :/ he even says "Mmmm Nemo taste good!" after each bite. We had pork after we were watching Peppa Pig. He told me he wanted to eat Peppa Pig. When we use to look at his picture books he'd want to know what sound each animal made, or if he could hold them. Now he wants to know if he can eat them or what they eat.

I think early introduction to the concept of death takes the sting out of finding out later on about it. It's something all farm kids learn at an early age.

My son has also been to a funeral. I don't think there's any point in shielding them from such a natural part of life.

Stifler's - posted on 02/20/2011

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haha the people who wrote that tried to sue men at work for their down under song

Sal - posted on 02/20/2011

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ohh the one that i was trying to think of was kookaburra sits in the old gum tree,, some school teacher tried to put "how happy your life must be" in stead of "how gay your life must be"

Sal - posted on 02/20/2011

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we have always had atishoo for ring a rosie, i thought it was because you got sick with the plauge and the sneeze represented being sick, but ashes works too

Sal - posted on 02/20/2011

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this does happen here too and i don;t think it should, we have a really old copy of henny penny where cocky locky, ducky daddles, turkey lurcky, and goosey loosey all get eaten by the big bad wolf.....and my kids love it

Stifler's - posted on 02/20/2011

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I don't think they should. I love the way nursery rhymes capture and almost pay respect to times gone by.

Nicole - posted on 02/19/2011

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I listened to the song about Kidnapping Santa Clause in The Nightmare Before Christmas and it is brutal.

A lot of songs have been changed so that now at playgroups, I never know which way a song will be sung.

[deleted account]

It was always "Atishoo atishoo" here in Australia, even when i was a little girl (and I'm 56 now!)

I hate all the changes. I can even cope with the Cookie Monster, although we don't call them cookies here, and would never think of changing it to the Biscuit Monster!

Nikki - posted on 02/19/2011

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Julianne you reminded me that was another song that was changed when I was teaching. Ten little Indians, they obviously were not concerned with the race factor but they changed it to "ten little Indian boys and girls" so that it wasn't gender biased!

I think it's a bit much, there are songs about all different races and genders, it would be a pretty boring world if we had to go as far as changing all songs and stories to ensure they didn't discriminate against anyone.

JuLeah - posted on 02/19/2011

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I think we need to stop shielding children from life, from the consequences of their own actions, from small dangers, from hurt feelings, from striking out on the ball field, from failing a test for which they did not study, from waiting their turn, from waiting for what they want, from working for what they want, from honest feedback if their behavior is obnoxious .... the old women (sorry, woman of advanced years) ate a fly, a cat, a dog, a goat, a cow and a horse ... and yah, she died. The message, "Don't eat that much" it is good advice and I think we ought to leave the story alone

Jenn - posted on 02/19/2011

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I don't think it should be changed. And here it's "Ashes ashes" but a lot of people also say "husha husha we all fall down".

Jocelyn - posted on 02/19/2011

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I don't think we need to change them. Kids don't normally pick up on the morbid/violent/etc stuff.
For instance, I just found a childhood book of mine (one of those 1st reader-types) that I loved!
I read it to Conner, and it's about a woman who finds a human bone in a graveyard and makes soup with it! And then she gets haunted!!
That's some freaky shit.
But I never realized it was freaky until I was 23 LOL

[deleted account]

I think the "one little two little three little indians..." should be changed...i watched a baby song video with my little brother when he was a baby. It had this nursery rhyme with a bunch of dark babies dressed in Native American head dresses stacking them in the shape of a tepee and singing that.quite racist i find..

Alyssa - posted on 02/19/2011

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I haver an old nursery rhyme book and when my 5yo ask me to read it I must admit i am a bit shocked that I now understand the meaning behind the nursery rhymes...kind of interesting for me, a bit of a childhood revelation.....but he doesn't care!!

Jodi - posted on 02/19/2011

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I think its ridiculous to even feel the need to change nursery rhymes and stories for kids. They are pretty much the same here as the ones I was brought up with - I've never changed anything. So far so good, my kids don't seem to have tortured souls :P

Johnny - posted on 02/19/2011

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I haven't bothered altering any old nursery rhymes for my daughter, and I haven't experienced it happening at our library story hour or sing-a-long times either. Ring around the rosie here still seems to be "Ashes, ashes, we all fall down" and the little old lady is still dying after eating her fly. My daughter loves one of my nursery rhyme books from when I was little, which is really quite terrible, but I seem to have escaped unscarred from such little ditties as:

Little Polly Flinders
Sat among the cinders,
Warming her pretty little toes.
Her mother came and caught her,
And whipped her little daughter
For spoiling her nice new clothes.

and

Ladybug! Ladybug!
Fly away home;
Your house is on fire,
Your children are gone.
All except one,
And that's little Ann,
And she has crept under
The frying pan.

I'm not a big believer in over-sheltering kids. To me, changing rhymes just for that purpose is designed to make us feel better, it doesn't do anything to help the kids adjust to life. Sadly, being alive means experiencing a huge array of good and bad

Rosie - posted on 02/19/2011

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no they shouldn't be altered, i think it's harmless. society going overboard again, lol!

Bonnie - posted on 02/19/2011

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Yeah because it's not the parents fault at all. It's the nursery rhymes that are being read to children that cause them to be this way lol.

Nikki - posted on 02/19/2011

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Has anyone seen this circulating on facebook?

Dear Parents. Jasmine was in a relationship with a dirty homeless boy named Aladdin. Snow White lived alone with 7 men. Pinnochio was a liar. Robin Hood was a thief. Tarzan walked around without clothes on. A stranger kissed sleeping beauty and she married him. Cinderella lied and snuck out at night to attend a party. You can't blame us. We were taught to rebel since a young age

Maybe we do need to change these books and nursery rhymes because the teenagers of today will use any dam excuse for their bad behaviour lol *sarcasm ;)

Nikki - posted on 02/19/2011

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Another one I remember from teaching was a pirate song, it used to go "a bottle of rum to fill my tum" it was changed to "a bottle of fun to fill my tum" You can't say anything any more.

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