“Why do they want to chop off my head?” asked a small voice, interrupting our peaceful, snugly bedtime story reading routine, where I was reading from the new nursery rhyme book we bought recently.
“Um, I mean, to kiss your head,” I said quickly, making a mental note to not zone out when reading to my 3-year-old son next time.
Of course, he was referring to the phrase “Here comes the chopper to chop off your head” in the nursery rhyme “Oranges and Lemons”.
“Oranges and lemons" say the Bells of St. Clement's
"You owe me five farthings" say the Bells of St. Martin's
"When will you pay me?" say the Bells of Old Bailey
"When I grow rich" say the Bells of Shoreditch
"When will that be?" say the Bells of Stepney
"I do not know" say the Great Bells of Bow
"Here comes a Candle to light you to Bed
Here comes a Chopper to Chop off your Head
Chip chop chip chop – the Last Man's Dead.”
I hadn’t read this rhyme in maybe 20 years and I certainly didn’t remember me asking the same question of my parents/teachers when it was recited to me in my childhood.
But that doesn’t make the fact that such a violent idea was presented in a children’s book go away. In fact, the more rhymes I read in this book, the more frightening themes it revealed.
Take for instance, “Three blind mice”.
Three blind mice, three blind mice,
See how they run, see how they run,
They all ran after the farmer's wife,
Who cut off their tails with a carving knife,
Did you ever see such a thing in your life,
As three blind mice?
Or “Goosey, Goosey Gander”
Goosey Goosey Gander where shall I wander,
Upstairs, downstairs and in my lady's chamber
There I met an old man who wouldn't say his prayers,
I took him by the left leg and threw him down the stairs.
Hmmm…maybe this book wasn’t the right one to read to my son. But hang on, this is a classic nursery rhymes book. Children, over many generations have been singing these rhymes. So they should be ok to be read to a 3-year-old right?