The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, Hardback Book

The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes Hardback

Edited by Iona Opie, Peter Opie

4.5 out of 5 (1 rating)


This classic dictionary brings together over 500 nursery rhymes, songs, nonsense jingles, lullabies, and rhyming alphabets traditionally handed on to young children.

All the items have been arranged alphabetically, from 'A was an apple-pie' to 'Yankee Doodle came to town' and include such favourites as 'A frog he would a-wooing go', 'Baa, baa, black sheep', 'Dance to your daddy', 'Jack and Jill', and 'Old Mother Hubbard'.

With each item comes a unique set of historical and bibliographical notes that record the earliest known publication of each piece, describe the circumstances of its origin, illustrate changes in wording over time, and indicate variations and parallels in other languages. In a detailed and fascinating introduction, the editors describe the different types of rhyme, the earliest published collections, theories of origins, and such questions as whether or not individual rhymes originally portrayed real people and who was Mother Goose.

Complementing the rhymes are nearly a hundred illustrations, including reproductions of early appearances in ballad sheets and music books, which show the development of nursery rhyme illustrations over the last two centuries. For this revised edition, the notes have been updated and extended in the light of recent scholarship, providing an unrivalled wealth of literary and bibliographical information. There is also a new essay on the singing tradition of nursery rhymes by Cecily Raysor Hancock, making The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes an indispensable source of reference for scholars and book collectors, and a volume to be treasured by parents and children alike. 'No reader's imagination could fail to be enriched by this book' - Sunday Times 'The classic on the subject' - Daily Telegraph


  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 592 pages, frontispiece, black and white illustrations
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Folklore, myths & legends
  • ISBN: 9780198600886



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Most reference books inspire imitation. This one inspires only admiration.The reason is simple: To create another such reference, particularly one that would improve on the Opies's work, would be almost impossible.There are a number of factors that make this a great book. To begin with, its fullness -- 550 nursery rhymes. Also there is the organization: The rhymes are organized topically by the key concept, but with an index of first lines so that they can be found by that means also. This organization has the advantage that it makes it easy to find multiple rhymes on the same topic. There is also an index of "notable figures" so that a reader can track down which editors were responsible for preserving and setting down particular rhymes.And, in addition to the rhymes, there are the notes. These include historical and background notes, source notes, and cross-references. Often these are longer than the nursery rhyme itself, and frequently include variant forms of the rhyme.Throw in a significant number of illustrations from early printings of the rhymes, and the net result is a book that almost certainly contains just about every useful fact known about these much-loved short poems. There are a few places where one can quibble with the result. But, after more than half a century, there has been no attempt to replace, or even to supplement, this book. That should be testimony enough to its quality.