March 23, 2020

C is for Crooked

        (My theme for this year’s April A to Z Blog Challenge is traditional English language nursery rhymes, and their block printed illustrations.)

There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile.
He found a crooked sixpence by a crooked stile.
He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.

        It’s good to have friends who understand you.
        I’ve always found this one especially charming.  As a child I was cheered to see the three of them making their own happy family.  Here’s the first of my own nursery rhyme illustrations for the A-Z challenge, which appears in my book Hey, Diddle Diddle! and Other Rhymes.  I especially enjoyed designing the crooked house, but I tried to make everything crooked, from the fence to the very blades of grass.
        We get the impression in the second illustration that the crooked man really enjoys his walks.  Here he is perhaps on the way home to the crooked house after another crooked mile or two, with the mouse scampering on ahead and the cat, looking quite Halloweeny, hitching a ride.  This is from the era of printing in which wood engravers reproduced illustrations for printing, so although it is technically a block print, it really has the look of a pen drawing.
        This third illustration is the opposite: not technically a block print, but with the spirit of one, with its solid areas of black and white (although really too much white).  This artist shows the crooked man holding his crooked sixpence, which he really shouldn’t still have if he’s already got the cat and the mouse.  Ah-ha, caught you there, illustrator J.F. Goodridge!
        Fun historical note: apparently in the second half of the 17th century there was a fashion for a young man to give his beloved an altered coin as a love token.  The coin might be smoothed and engraved on one side, or pierced to make a pendant, or bent, making it “crooked.”  On the other hand, perhaps a crooked coin is counterfeit.  So what do you think was the story behind our crooked man’s sixpence?  Might it have been a love token?  And if so, was it discarded or lost?  I like the idea that even if it was discarded in rejection of one potential family, it made possible the coming together of another.
        A final note for impressionable children: Families come in many forms.
[Pictures: In a Little Crooked House, rubber block print by AEGN, 2002;
Illustration by W.J. Wiegand (wood engraving by the Brothers Dalziel) from Mother Goose, or National Nursery Rhymes, 1872 (Image from Hathi Trust);
Silhouette illustration by J.F. Goodridge from The Original Mother Goose Melodies with Silhouette Illustrations, 1878 (Image from International Children’s Digital Library).]


Kathe W. said...

Indeed....families do come in all sorts of sizes and shapes.
Kind of teaches us to respect everybody....and this was written many years ago. Cheers and keep 'em coming!

A Tarkabarka Hölgy said...

I agree, this is definitely one of the likable nursery rhymes :) Didn't know that about the love token!

The Multicolored Diary

Deborah Weber said...

Oh I had totally forgotten about this nursery rhyme - what a delight to have my heart and brain claim it back again! I love your illustration, and I think it's perfect that everything in it is crooked. Well, perhaps perfect is an entirely incorrect word for such a space, but it does make me happy.

I didn't know about crooked coin love tokens, but I'm certainly charmed.

Keith's Ramblings said...

We all have nursery rhymes in our heads I'm sure, but do we ever look between the words to discover a deeper meaning? Until now I'd never given the crooked sixpence a thought - now you've got me wondering!

Frédérique said...

I love the idea of a love token ;) You are so right, families comes in many forms
C is for Colour

Lisa said...

I know so many nursery rhymes and tales have roots in history, but I never thought of this one! I always loved this one. I think part of that is as a child I (an my children after me) used to go to Fairyland in Oakland, CA, and one of the features was the Crooked Man. I found him fascinating for some reason! I love that you even crooked the grass!

Jade Li said...

I like your woodcut, where everything is crooked. I also like how you did the sky.

Kristin said...

I think that he altered a six pence to give to the girl down the road. Alas, she didn't accept it as she was in love with another. He decided to heck with women and was joined by the crooked cat and mouse. In the print above, he has come in position of another 6 pence and is going to try again for the little crooked woman who lived down the road in the opposite direction.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Kristin, I love your story! I wonder whether the little crooked woman loves him?

Lisa, I had to look up Fairyland in Oakland, but didn't see any pictures of a Crooked Man. What kind of attraction was it?

Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

Interesting notes on the illustrations. I like the idea of having families come in different shapes and sizes.

An A-Z of Faerie: Cù Sìth

Pax said...

Isn't it "beside a crooked style" so that it scans better? On the other hand, it doesn't really matter and I'm very fond of this print and nursery rhyme.

Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

I'm sure I commented on this before... Anyhow, great images!

An A-Z of Faerie: Cù Sìth