April 8, 2020

K is for Kittens

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

Three little kittens they lost their mittens,
And they began to cry,
“Oh, mother dear, we sadly fear
Our mittens we have lost.”
“What! lost your mittens, you naughty kittens!
Then you shall have no pie.”
Mee-ow, mee-ow, mee-ow.
“No, you shall have no pie.”

The three little kittens they found their mittens,
And they began to cry,
“Oh, mother dear, see here, see here,
Our mittens we have found!”
“Put on your mittens, you silly kittens,
And you shall have some pie.”
Purr-r, purr-r, purr-r,
“Yes, yes!  Let’s have some pie.”

The three little kittens put on their mittens,
And soon ate up the pie.
“Oh, mother dear, we greatly fear
Our mittens we have soiled.”
“What! soiled your mittens, you naughty kittens!”
Then they began to sigh,
Mee-ow, mee-ow, mee-ow.
Then they began to sigh.

The three little kittens they washed their mittens,
And hung them out to dry.
“Oh! mother dear, do you not hear,
Our mittens we have washed!”
“What! washed your mittens, then you’re good kittens,
But I smell a rat close by.”
Mee-ow, mee-ow, mee-ow.
Yes, we smell a rat close by.

        This is a little unusual for a nursery rhyme in that it seems to have been heavily worked by specific authors (notably William E. Gladstone in 1827 and Eliza Lee Cabot Follen in 1843), rather than simply being a product of oral tradition.  There are a number of nursery rhymes that have multiple verses, but most of those are more episodic in character, with various verses appearing in various versions, rather than having anything approaching an actual plot arc.  For many of those longer rhymes, modern children tend to know only the first verse, but the three little kittens retain their whole history.
        In my illustration (the first one above) I wanted to include the entire story rather than a single moment or episode.  I put in the three kittens plus the rat, and the various states of mittenage around the border.  I have given my three kittens twelve mittens altogether, although most illustrators seem to give them only six.  My decision was as much for purposes of design as out of a sense that they truly needed mittens for their hind paws as well.
        What kind of pie do you think the kittens were eating?  Blueberry or cherry for maximum mitten-soiling?  Or perhaps they would prefer mouse pie, or even a pie with four-and-twenty blackbirds?
        A final note for impressionable children: Pie is absolutely worth doing chores for.

[Pictures: Three Little Kittens, rubber block print by AEGN, 2007;
Wood block prints by Joan Hassall, c 1955 (Image from Opie, The Oxford Nursery Rhyme Book);
Color wood block print by Walter Crane from The Baby’s Bouquet, cut and printed by Edmund Evans, c 1879 (Image from Project Gutenberg).]

15 comments:

Unknown said...

Oh wow!! This was my favourite rhyme ..Reading it after ages..Thanks..

Kathe W. said...

Very cute! I made a Strawberry pie yesterday and deliberately did not wear my mittens! I remember my mother reading so many of the nursery rhymes that you are now writing about! Very fun memories! Thanks! See you tomorrow!

Kristin said...

What a troublesome bunch of kittens! I like your illustration.

A Tarkabarka Hölgy said...

I didn't know this one! Cute rhyme. And I like the progression of details in your illustration :)

The Multicolored Diary

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Glad I could bring back good memories, Kathe and Anonymous! Kathe, good choice not to wear mittens - I'm sure strawberry pie stains. But it sounds delicious!

Frédérique said...

Your illustration is perfect, love the progression. They ate a blueberry pie for sure :)
K is for Kaleidoscope

Anne M Bray said...

Oooooh! I love the Celtic Knot Kitties!

Thanks for stopping by the Trucks A-Z!

Jade Li said...

I like the Celtic knot in the center weaving things together. I never thought about how many mittens, but you're right there would need to be 4 per kitten. How pleasant it is to revisit the rhyme. I remember we read all you included as kids.

Jenny said...

This post is adorable from start to finish. I love thinking of mittens on the hind paws, too! My bet is that the kittens would be all in for that blackbird pie!

Deborah Weber said...

LOL - pie is definitely worth doing chores for! I'm not sure I've ever heard all those verses before, but I certainly love your illustration of them. If I had to do all that mitten washing, I'd want my pie to be blueberry. With a scoop of ice cream please.

Antoinette said...

So sweet.I love the nursery rhymes.

Jai said...

Three little kittens is indeed a really wonderful nursery rhyme. In fact, I do not remember reading three little kittens when I was a kid, perhaps because I live in a country which is not a native English speaking country. But I was educated in a convent and studied in an English medium school. Your illustrations are also really beautiful.

Lizanne Lloyd said...

I adore your knotted tail kittens telling the tale.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Jai, most children probably learn their nursery rhymes before they go to school, so it makes sense that you would not be so familiar with these.

Okay, all you kittens, may you each enjoy a pie of your favorite variety in the near future! Thanks for stopping by.

Sonia Dogra said...

Loved your interpretation. In fact I remember this rhyme vividly but only the first stanza.