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Four and Twenty Blackbirds: A Collection of Old Nursery Rhymes

Four and Twenty Blackbirds: Nursery Rhymes of Yesterday Recalled for Children of Today - Helen Dean Fish, Robert Lawson This is a very nice little collection, with Helen Dean Fish's special attention given to songs not usually featured in the Mother Goose collections. Only a few of the shorter verses are included, and quite obscure. The longer items are most often complete, multi-verse songs. A good number of these have obviously been cleaned up for modern use, with hints of older darker themes hiding in the background. But for some of them, the old themes are strong and rich like black coffee.

My favorite in the bunch is "The Robber Kitten" where although the Kitten does reform in the end, the entire bulk of the verse is spent in the imagined life of a vile highwayman. This is the same kind of moralization as in Peter Rabbit, where the sudden moralistic ending does little because so much time throughout the entire text has been spent in disobedience and difficulty.

Fish has been careful to make notes and acknowledgments for her sources for each song. This scholarship predates Iona & Peter Opie's dictionary, and follows strongly in the tradition of Alice B. Gomme's Children's Singing Games.