The Inner City Mother Goose Critical Essays

Eva Moskovitz


(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

The songs and poems of the original Mother Goose—such as “Humpty Dumpty,” “There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe,” and “London Bridges”—appeal to children of toddler and preschool ages even though they were written to address adult social issues. In much the same way, the new forms of The Inner City Mother Goose appeal to adolescents because of the staccato earthy rhythms of the poetry and the nonlyrical jabs of the thoughts. Through Merriam’s poems, young people discover that poetry is not always pretty word pictures about nature. Teenagers often like to experiment with writing verse, and this book may introduce them to a way in which to begin penning their own poetry.

A mature audience is needed for these poems and images, one that can separate, for example, the acts of the stereotypical “pig” police officer from the positive accomplishments of law enforcement agencies. The book calls for readers who can categorize and excise the glaring sins of one segment of the population from humankind as a whole.

The black-and-white photographs and other visual images provoke the reader into thinking about the injustices within a system dedicated to the concept of equality for all. Students of the graphic arts, especially photography, can see the power of the use of light, shadow, geometric designs, enlargement, size reduction, double exposure, and full-page and double-page spreads. Some of the pages have as many as seven photographs, while others are half of a double-page spread. Graphically, the imbalance of words per page reflects the message about inconsistency in society. For example, one page containing twelve words faces a page with one hundred fifty words; both poems rant against the welfare system.

In units studying multicultural diversity, the history of America’s disadvantaged learners, The Inner City Mother Goose would certainly have a place in the curriculum. This work could be a launching point for discussion, historical study, psychological interpretation, and literary comparison.

A study of semantics could also follow or introduce the book. What is meant by “numbers games,” “Mister Big,” “pusher,” “junk,” “the Man,” and “this little pig”? Students can trace the meanings of these words from their beginnings through their meanings in the literature of the 1960’s and 1970’s to current terminology. A comparison of words used in slang by white and black youths might stimulate lively discussions.