Neo Jamaican Nursery Rhymes

I spent some time earlier this month doing a course in writing picture books for children at the University of the West Indies’ Department of Literatures in English. Writing picture books for children is a fascinating field and it has haunted me.

One of the things that I will remember most is the challenge to write “stories with bite”; i.e. tales in which the characters aren’t perfect… we were assured that children can handle the more unvarnished view of reality because many of them face the harsh glare of their reality more squarely than I have had to during my sheltered 40+ years on this planet.

While my classmates were writing their stories (I already have The Little Bully in my portfolio) I decided to tackle the other challenge issued by the facilitator. This was to write a set of new Jamaican nursery rhymes. I have to say that I had never thought to do this! It seemed like the coolest thing that I could do and I wanted to try.

Somehow, the two challenges have become blurred in my mind and so I have written a set of nursery rhymes with bite. I have to say that these disturb even me, although I comfort myself by remembering that even the nursery rhymes that we knew as children often dealt with harsh reality in a disguised way. That said, these neo-Jamaican nursery rhymes are bald and unrelenting in their gaze on the society in which we live. These are NOT for children.

Neo-Jamaican Nursery Rhymes

These simple neo-nursery rhymes
May make you mad,
Cause squirms and whines,
So, don’t be sad,
That they sound bad,
They reflect our f-ing times.

Domestic Violence nursery rhyme

Biff, bam, biff, bam, bop
Daddy, hitting mummy has to stop
Bam, bam, “Don’t hit him back mam!”
Daddy goes to jail in a van.

I have many versions of this one:

Biff, bam, biff, bam, bop
Daddy, hitting mummy has to stop
Rap, rap, “You called for help, mam!”
Daddy goes to jail in a van.


Biff, bam, biff, bam, bop
Daddy, hitting mummy has to stop
Bam, bam, “Don’t hit him back mam!”
Daddy goes to jail with a cop.

This last was actually the original version of the nursery rhyme, but it has changed in my mind many times, as you’ve seen.

Did I tell you that the themes for these neo-Jamaican nursery rhymes may well have been ripped from the headlines. Sad…

Bullying and revenge murder nursery rhyme

Richard Thump was a big, bad bully,
Never once stopped in his tracks
So I hanged him from this pulley,
And hacked and packed him in these sacks.
Richard made my life a hell.
I’ll go to jail, all will be well.

Beauty and jacket nursery rhyme

My hair is long, so I am pretty,
Yours is wholly, so you are not.
My daddy’s black, so tell me Mummy,
How did I get this hair, I’ve got?

Incest, teen pregnancy and suicide nursery rhyme

Mary’s tummy got really bigger,
So, mummy’s having our daddy jailed.
He took his gun, and pulled the trigger
Everyone’s saying that the system’s failed.

I’m going to spend some time trying to write some more acceptable nursery rhymes, because I agree that it is time for some new ones. Social commentary does not always have to be depressing or horrifying and I refuse to leave these as my last word on this topic.


Before I go, I’d like to invite you to join the gathering in the Neville Hall Lecture Theatre at the UWI on Sunday, 2 March at 11:00 a.m. for their contribution to the Kingston Book Fair. It promises to be an exciting event. I went last year and heard about the Kai Miller workshop. It is that that launched me back into my writing efforts. I did not write anything in that workshop that I have shared with you here, but it was the shift in my thinking about writing that signifies the major turning point for me.


RIP Leonard Nemoy!

Nantsew ye!

About Gabrielle Burns

I am a Jamaican at play here in this vast playground in cyberspace....Yes, at times I do like to live dangerously, but I AM also working hard at becoming more interesting by the day... :)
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