Lavender’s Blue – Kathleen Lines

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

Bechdel: 1 point
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story: 2 points. One from each of us.
Discretionary ideological points: 0 points

Lavender’s Blue is a book of nursery rhymes, which makes it remarkably difficult to score. It’s tempting to want to somehow score each one, and conversely, just as tempting to give it a pass because these rhymes are so very iconic – there is legitimate cultural heritage here, going back hundreds of years.

But my goal was to drag classic children’s literature kicking and screaming into the light, so here it is. In the light. Even the objectively measureable metrics were tricky. I gave it the Bechdel point (and that makes it the first book to get it so far) because of a single rhyme. Only one, that technically passes. This one:

Come, let’s to bed,
Says Sleepy-head;
Tarry a while, says Slow;
Put on the pan,
Says Greedy Nan,
Let’s sup before we go.

While there’s nothing explicit in the poem to suggest that either Slow or Sleepy-head are female, the accompanying illustration in this book has all three being women. And these are clearly named characters, and they are not talking about men. So. Technically, passes the Bechdel test, if only in a scraping by sort of way.

But it is the only rhyme in the whole book I could find that did at all, so it’s probably worth noting here that the Bechdel is a pretty low bar. There are plenty of things in this book that are blatantly anti-feminist – many wives being kept in pumpkins or brought home from market in a barrow and so forth.

And even by this sort of very low bar, I couldn’t give it points for variety in characters. Not a single illustration even of a character who wasn’t white.

I have to take a moment to discuss two rhymes in particular that made me feel like I needed to stop and have a chat with the kid. Georgie Porgy, because ew rapey! We stopped to talk about why it’s not okay to kiss girls (or, indeed, anyone) without their permission, and how that makes Georgie really not a very nice little boy.

And the second was one that I hadn’t encountered before that avers that “they that wash on Saturday, Oh! they’re sluts indeed”. Which resulted in a short conversation about how words change meaning over time and this is one of those grownup words he shouldn’t be using.

This all said, I have a very real soft spot for nursery rhymes, despite all their frequently very dodgy messages, and C loved it. The book is long, and we did not read it in one sitting, but he sat still for much longer than I’d expect as we meandered through the rhymes. So I still gave it both his and my enjoyment points.

What do you think? How do you feel about nursery rhymes? Which are your favourites? Which are the ones you find particularly problematic?

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2 thoughts on “Lavender’s Blue – Kathleen Lines

  1. I loved nursery rhymes, and I think they are one of the few pieces of “writing” (they should probably be said rather than written) that appeal to basically all age groups. When I was a kid, I mostly like the riddle or paradox type ones, and ones with similarly unlikely drawings. We have a book, 365 nursery rhymes, which is the source for all my nursery rhyme knowledge which I shall probably always keep. I think they are also good learning tools, if only you could make better use of them. I learnt the word erroneous from the following rhyme:
    Moses supposes his toeses are roses
    but Moses supposes erroneously
    (because nobodies)? toeses are (made out of)? roses
    as Moses supposes his toeses to be.

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    1. Furthermore, I think that nursery rhymes help stretch your mind a bit when you’re a kid, because they often use words or ideas you don’t understand, but they’re written in a child-friendly way with a rhyme or a song. So they are sit on the boundary between known and unknown, which is where learning and creativity best occur.

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