Nursery Rhymes for an Improvable World
by Graham Dukes
Trafford Publishing

"Once upon a very-long-time-ago, Nursery Rhymes had a habit of tiptoeing quietly and unobtrusively into the culture and staying there."

Nursery rhymes are often the first tidbits of literature a child learns. Despite the fact that some of them may have been composed two or three centuries ago, variations of these classic verses still pop up in modern preschool videos or are chanted in playground games by little ones who are clueless to their original meanings. After a witty and insightful prologue into a bit of the history and surprising longevity of several examples of this literary form, the author offers up some contemporary transformations of dozens of these well-worn rhymes in a well-written and entertaining book.

Although widely regarded as foolish doggerel, these catchy poems often served as vehicles of sharp social criticism and biting satire in their day. Dukes expertly recaptures these sensibilities in his own reworking of these verses but with subjects and themes that adult readers of today can relate to. For example, while the first rhyme he tackles, "Rock-a Bye Baby," may have possibly once alluded to King George the First of England's hiding from the Puritans, the author's updated version speaks about a wide variety of dangers for "baby" including allergens, pornography, and tobacco smoke. Like the originals, though, these social commentaries are generally humorous. Some, however, ditch the laughter as in the poem "I Took Three Grains of Mustardseed," a beautiful, wistful piece which is reminiscent of some of the best verse from the Romantic Period.

Charmingly illustrated by Lisa Helander, Dukes' book brings back much of the wonder of childhood in his updated twists on familiar rhymes. But it is his own unique voice couched in these deft alterations of the original pieces that make his poetry so appealing.

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