In the 1970’s, The Inner City Mother Goose was used in classes for teacher education preparation in children’s literature. By the 1990’s, it was mentioned in children’s literature textbooks as a work for adult readers presented in the form of a children’s picture book. The work has sometimes been omitted from school reading lists or taken off library shelves because of the use of a few words that are considered unacceptable. Within the body of the verses, strong language reflects street talk rather than the vocabulary of the intelligentsia. Yet, it seems that young adults are drawn to books of this type precisely for these reasons. Moreover, authors such as Eve Merriam are viewed by this audience as having something important to say and not being afraid to disturb the people in power—traits that are admired by many young adults.
The issues analyzed in The Inner City Mother Goose—the freedom of speech, the freedom of expression at the college level, and the Civil Rights movement—have made the book attractive to general audiences, professors, college students, and critics. The slow and painful process of change in a society is shown as a challenge in this collection of poems and graphic images.
This poetry collection appeared in the middle of Merriam’s career. Her works, both those for adults and those for younger readers, often touch on controversial social issues. She explores sexism in Boys and Girls, Girls and Boys (1972), a picture book for children, and celebrates feminism in Mommies at Work (1961) and Growing Up Female in America (1971). Merriam also writes lighter works: It Doesn’t Always Have to Rhyme (1964) makes the study of poetry forms fun, The Birthday Cow (1978) contains fifteen poems celebrating the humorous aspects of contemporary life, and Halloween ABC (1987) is a simple children’s book. The Inner City Mother Goose appears to be the most impassioned of her literary products.