Baa Baa Black Sheep


Illustration by Walter Crane for the The Baby’s Opera, A Book of Old Rhymes in New Dresses, First edition, George Routledge & Sons, 1877

Baa, baa black sheep, have you any wool?

Yes, sir, yes, sir, three bags full.

One for the Master,

One for the Dame

And one for the little boy who lives down the lane.

“Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” goes back to the 12th century at least. It was a time when the wealth of England was very much based on wool. The lord chancellor still sits on a wool sack in the House of Commons to remind everyone about that.

The most common interpretation of the rhyme refers to the medieval English “Great” or “Old Custom” wool tax of 1275, which survived until the fifteenth century. The rhyme sounds like a lament from the farmers of England represented by the little boy. The other two figures in the rhyme are the master and the dame: the master is the king or the king’s representatives, the local nobility which collected revenue on behalf of the king–and the dame is the church. All together the taxes would be more than 2 thirds of the farmer’s profit: a third to the king, a third to the church and a third left for the poor little farmer.

Rudyard Kipling used the title for one of his short stories, where he describes his own misfortunes as a child in a foster home.

It seems like this generous sheep is not as happy as the rhyme and song would want you to believe. But then again, like in a lot of children rhymes, making light of one’s misfortunes is the norm, and maybe, the lesson.

Talk soon,



What have I been up to for the past couple of months?

Well, here’s the rundown:


mary mary det      humpty dumpty

New prints: a new series based on Mother Goose nursery rhymes is available in the shop. Have you seen it yet?



This website. I decided that it was time to put the idea of running my own online shop to rest and leave it to the pros. So, commercial activities have been transferred completely to the Etsy store, and Picture a Tale, the website, is now entirely dedicated to blue-sky pursuits… such as: blog, pictures, FAQ and taking comments and suggestions.



Pinterest. It’s hard work, but somebody has to do it. Also, rethinking the best way to spend precious time and energy for marketing (hint: Facebook and their practices towards small businesses are becoming more and more irritating).




Looking forward to getting back in action!

Talk soon,



Mary Mary Quite Contrary

The first time I started looking up nursery rhymes was a few years ago, after Baby #1 was born. Not having grown up with Mother Goose, I did not have many associations with the different rhymes. I just liked them for what they were. And because some of them did not make that much sense, I also started looking up their meaning. What a great surprise to learn about the more or less gory origins of many of them: plague, executions, terrible monarchs, battles of long time ago. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I like these things, but it was very interesting to see how the popular culture dealt with these negative events and characters and turned them into them into children’s rhymes: harmless play and history lesson to be remembered, at once.

As I decided to illustrate some of the rhymes, I kept the childish, light-tone that makes them great for kids. But, I also went back to the original meaning and researched it a little more. Not all of them have hidden connotations, and of those who do, it is not certain how much was added much later. Regardless, they do make for intriguing bits of historical trivia and over the next few weeks I will share with you some of my findings.

Here is the first one:

Mary, Mary Quite Contrary

Mary, Mary quite contrary

How does your garden grow?

With silver bells and cockleshells

And pretty Maids all in a row.

The first theory on this rhyme involves Mary I of Scotland. The first line how does your garden grow possibly refers to the length of her reign (25 years, during which she lived mostly in France). Silver bells would be a reference to the church bells of the catholic cathedrals. Cockleshells could be an underlying statement that her husband was unfaithful and pretty maids would be a line about the death of her babies.

Another of these theories is about Mary I of England, also known as “Bloody Mary”. Mary Tudor was well known for her obsessive mission to return England to its Catholic religion. The most popular theory about Mary, Mary quite contrary is the one that describes the how does your garden grow as the growing size of the graveyards. The graveyards were growing so rapidly because there were Protestants who were executed because they were unwilling to give up their faith and practice as Catholic. Silver Bells and Cockleshells refer to torture devices. Silver Bells were thumbscrews, which caused the thumb to be smashed between two flat surfaces by a screw being tightened up. Cockleshells were a device for torturing that was placed on the genitals. Then of course the pretty maids would refer to the guillotine type machine called “the maiden.” Beheadings and being burned at the stake were very popular during the reign of Mary Tudor.

As I was saying, executions and mean queens, the stuff of children songs… More to come.

Talk soon,


Lucy in a Simple Drawing

“Picture yourself in a boat on a river,
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies.
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly,
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes.

Cellophane flowers of yellow and green,
Towering over your head.
Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes,
And she’s gone.

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Follow her down to a bridge by a fountain,
Where rocking horse people eat marshmallow pies.
Everyone smiles as you drift past the flowers,
That grow so incredibly high.

Newspaper taxis appear on the shore,
Waiting to take you away.
Climb in the back with your head in the clouds,
And you’re gone.

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Picture yourself on a train in a station,
With plasticine porters with looking glass ties.
Suddenly someone is there at the turnstile,
The girl with kaleidoscope eyes.

Lucy in the sky with diamonds”

When I was in school, a long time ago, in a land far away, I used to spend many hours trying to come up with essays about the hidden meanings in poems, novels and such. A real torture! I remember thinking all along: why do we have to write about this? Can we just enjoy the images as they come to life? Now that I don’t write about it, I just enjoy the images and sometimes draw them. Like I did with “Lucy”.

OK, so it’s not Wordsworth, but “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” is one of those songs that everybody knows and sometimes wonders what it is about. Well, it turns out that (contrary to the urban myth) it’s about this drawing made by Julian Lennon of his school mate, Lucy. And about things that a kid could dream up. At least, that’s how I saw it and I’m sticking to it!

Getting to the final version wasn’t all that obvious, because I kept second guessing myself about this or that color and this or that composition element, but in the end it all came together. I have had this idea about starting a series based on miss-interpreted songs. There are at least a couple that I can think of that could use to be put just plainly in a drawing. I will keep you posted when that happens. In the meantime, there are a few other ideas that really need some attention.

Talk soon,


(Disclaimer: Shameless self-promotion) You can find beautiful full color art prints of “Lucy” in the Picture a Tale Society 6 store.

Story Time – “DIY Fairy Tale”

Ok, I admit it: the storytelling games in my last post were more on the “ready-made” side. And while there’s nothing wrong with that from time to time, in my mind there’s no replacement to good old pencil and paper when it comes to fun.

Here is an idea for a DIY storytelling game. It encourages creative thinking and develops drawing skills, although no pressure on the latter.

Most fairy tales are made up of 6 elements. So, to start, each child takes a piece of paper an draws a circle that she then divides in 6 slices. Then, in each slice, they drawn answer to the following questions:

1. What is the main character? Where does he/she live? What is the landscape there like?
2. What is her/his quest/mission/problem to solve?
3. Do they have somebody helping them? How?
4. What obstacle comes in the way of the character’s quest?
5. How will he/she deal with it?
6. What happens in the end?

When they are done drawing, everybody will tell their story to the others. Then they will file the drawing away for later, when they are comic book artists and need some inspiration.

(This game appears on, a great website for teaching resources.)

Enjoy story time and talk soon!