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CHILDREN'S LITERATURE ... a BRIEF History: Mother Goose

Mother Goose rhymes and stories have been told since the 1400's. While the true origins are not specifically known, there are several sources for the term Mother Goose, which does not refer to a real person, but rather is a series of children's works. There is the belief that the English version of Mother Goose was derived a work by from Charles Perrault (1628-1703), the French children's writer, who published a book of stories called "Tales from My Mother Goose" in 1697. Translated from French by British publisher John Newbery in 1781, the term Mother Goose refers to the stereotype of a gossipy old woman, the American equivalent of old wives tales (Encyclopedia Britannica). Thematically, Mother Goose tales revolve around animals, children fantasy, and magic. Rhymes focused broadly on well-being and tragedy, good and bad, acceptable and unacceptable behavior. "He did not invent these tales -- even in his day their plots were well known -- but he gave them literary legitimacy" (Ashliman). The original book had eight stories in it the original book had eight stories including such standards of the day as Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, Puss in Boots, Cinderella, Bluebeard, and others. The Mother Goose series also include some French verses in later issues. Conversely, the first British version was poetry. The stories came later.

There is a legend that Mother Goose is based on a woman Elizabeth Goose, (or variations on that name)who has a shrine to that effect at her grave in Boston. However, there is no evidence she actually published any books. Likely authors are Perrault and Newbery, as well as Oliver Goldsmith. The first American Mother Goose edition, published in 1785 by Isaiah Thomas, was a copy of the Newberry work (Encyclopędia Britannica).

Works Cited

Ashliman, D. L. Charles Perrault's Mother Goose Tales 1998-2006 http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/perrault.html

"Mother Goose." Encyclopędia Britannica. 2006 . Encyclopędia Britannica Online. 29 Aug. 2006 .

Saltman, Judith. "Trade and Plumbcake Forever". The Riverside Anthology of Children's Literature, 6th ed. Houghton Mifflin, 1985.

© T. T. Eiland, August, 2006
Last modified: August 5, 2006