Sunday 16 December 2012

Sunday Spotlight: Book Review of Oranges And Lemons: Rhymes From Past Times by Karen Dolby

My new Sunday Spotlight feature (which actually bears a striking similarity to my old Saturday Spotlight feature) will showcase some of my favourite recent books reviewed for the superb Bookbag site.

Karen Dolby's book is a loving look at nursery rhymes from many different times and places, handily organised into groups like 'Monday's Child: The Rhythm of Days' and 'Oranges and Lemons: Songs and Games'. In addition to the rhymes themselves, Dolby sets them into context and tells us of the stories behind them.

This is fascinating to anyone who has an interest in folklore and rhymes, even if the amount of detail given varies rather a lot between rhymes. 'Jack and Jill' has a particularly interesting set of theories associated with it, while the story behind the innocent-sounding 'London Bridge' will leave you shivering. Others however, like 'Aiken Drum', have only a couple of lines about them.

For me personally, the most interesting part is probably the speculation about the identity of some of the people that the rhymes were based on - just which of the King of Spain's daughters was it who appeared in so many rhymes? Was 'Who Killed Cock Robin' about the death of a bird, or something more sinister?

Most, though, have a decent amount of interesting facts about them, and there's a great collection of verses and some charming little sketches to go with them. It's set out so nicely that I could definitely see it being well-received as a gift - it's a beautiful book. It's also very comprehensive for a fairly small book - there's well over a hundred rhymes here and I can't think of any well-known ones that have been missed out. As well, it's surprisingly up to date with its most modern references - even DC Comics character Solomon Grundy gets a mention in the part about the nursery rhyme the character is based on!

Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in old rhymes, or really in history generally.

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