I had a little pony,
His name was Dapple-Gray,
I lent him to a lady,
To ride a mile away.
She whipped him, she slashed him,
She rode him through the mire;
I would not lend my pony now
For all the lady’s hire.

This is rather graphic animal abuse that is a little painful to read. I have a visceral reaction any time I read about someone mistreating an animal. I almost had a complete freak out a few weeks back listening to this story on This American Life until the host reminded the listeners it was a work for fiction. It still bothered me a little even after that reminder. Harm to animals honestly makes me want to go out and beat the perpetrator to a pulp with a baseball bad. Seriously. And I don’t think on the whole I’m a violent person but tormenting an animal for shits and giggles is beyond unacceptable to me. In this case, that feeling is mitigated by the knowledge that this is only a nursery rhyme and I supposed good that the narrator learned a lesson at the end. It would have been nicer still to see the “lady” get punished.

There’s also this one.

Ding, dong, bell, Pussy’s in the well.
Who put her in? Little Tommy Green.
Who pulled her out? Little Tommy Trout.
What a naughty boy was that,
Thus to drown poor Pussy Cat.

Here Mother Goose goes again with the “boys will be boys” lackadaisical attitude toward holding boys accountable for their crappy actions. Thank goodness for Tommy Trout, but again, where is the punishment for Tommy Green? Saying he was naughty but not making him suffer some consequences is like doing nothing at all.

And one more.

 There was an old woman sat spinning,
And that’s the first beginning;
She had a calf,
And that’s half;
She took it by the tail,
And threw it over the wall,
And that’s all!

I don’t care if this old woman had serious dementia. What kind of rhyme for children is this? Clearly it’s not meant to be real since this woman would require super human strength, but regardless, I don’t see why this one ever needs to be repeated.

Verdict: For someone who is an animal herself, Mother Goose sure doesn’t seem to care much about animal welfare. I think the dapple gray should kick these rhymes right out of the book.

It’s widely understood that Aesop’s fables had a lesson to impart to the reader. It’s less commonly known, but no less true, that the original Grimm’s fairy tales contained a lot of violence and sexual content that was inappropriate for children. But what about Mother Goose? Were the colorfully illustrated nursery rhymes in your Little Golden Book really so innocent? Were they carefully curated to be only about silliness and pat-a-cake? Let’s explore the reality together in this year’s Blogging From A to Z April Challenge.


  1. Old nursery rhymes are replete with violence and graphic content.

    Sample these:

    …when the bough breaks, the cradle will fall, and down will come baby…
    …four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie…
    …Jack fell down and broke his crown…

    Gangsta Rap is slightly better, no? :p

    All the Best for the A to Z Challenge. Do drop by mine.




  2. Thank you for the visit to and the “like” on my site. You’ve chosen a very interesting theme. I decided to write my own version of Humpty Dumpty for another blog challenge a while back and we also discussed the violence of the various children’s rhymes. Happy A to Z ..ing, I’ll be watching out for your entries.



  3. I have a rough time with depictions of animal abuse in fiction. The beating to death of a horse in Crime and Punishment was sickening to me. I know it’s fiction, but when it’s written well, it feels real.

    That crazy spinning lady . . . what the heck? I can’t even figure out what kind of point, moral or social, that one’s trying to make.



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