I have been on a little tirade about the explosion of twisted folktales and nursery rhymes so when Spinster Goose, Twisted Nursery Rhymes for Naughty Children by Lisa Wheeler arrived at the library, I wanted to dislike it. Also, I was not in love with the cover.At first I only skimmed the book like a snotty adult who had already made up her mind. But then this verse caught my attention:
Chew-chaw, Margery Daw.
This girl is a gum-chewing master.
It makes her quite mad
And quite a bit sad
That she cannot chew any faster.
Look at her now, resembling a cow,
Chomping with teeth all corroded.
Whenever she blows,
Her bubble-gum grows –
Too bad it exploded.
Coupled with the hilarious full-page illustration this was so funny, I couldn’t help but sit down and take a better look at the entire book. By the end I was just laughing at these naughty re-imaginings of the children and adults that people the nursery rhyme world.
Little Miss Muffet, Georgie Pordgie, Jack and Jill, Lucy Locket, Little Jack Horner, Humpty Dumpty and many more find themselves reassigned to a reform school for naughty children. Old Mother Hubbard is the custodian, Jack Sprat (stirs in the fat/His wife dumps in the beans…) is the cook and Mother Goose’s sister, Spinster Goose, is the headmistress. She runs a tight ship. She has to. These kids are trouble: Jack and Jill sneak up a hill “to ditch a boring class,” Georgie Porgie “pushed first-graders, made them cry,” and “Monday’s child insulted the tutors/Tuesday’s child hacked all the computers…” Well, you can just imagine what the rest of them are up to.
The art by Sophie Blackall is quite disturbing and at first I didn’t like it. Some of the children have animal heads while others have regular faces but tails. Jack and Jill have balloons for heads and Ba Ba Black Sheeep’s entire upper torso is a pile of wool! But as I read the rhymes the illustrations really grew on me. They are sly and clever and really fit the personality of these wicked nursery rhyme characters and the slightly menacing verses.
Mind you, this is not a book for younger children. I imagine its dark humor will appeal mostly to kids who like the world of Lemony Snicket and Road Dahl. But for them, it will be a treat.