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,


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!

Storytelling Games – Christmas gift edition

If you are like me, then there are surely a few Christmas presents that you still need to get. Or, again, if you are like me, you can’t help getting some more great presents even if everybody has been taken care of. Because you never know when they might come in handy.

In either case, a good storytelling game will do the trick. Here are 3 options for lovers of stories young and old. Entertaining, stimulating and made to bring creative minds together.

1. Tell Me a Story:

2. Rory’s Story Cubes:

3. Once Upon a Time:

Now I’m off to get those last three things on my gift shopping list. Or were there five?

Talk soon!


Story Time – “The Jacket”

Rev. C. Kuhl (LOC)


Get an old jacket or coat and put items in the pocket such as a train ticket, a letter, a book or a toy animal. Give the jacket to the group so that they can discover the items. Ask questions to prompt imaginative responses from the kids:

  • Who does this jacket belong to?
  • What is in the pockets?
  • Wonder why there is a …?
  • What do you think they were doing?
  • Does this person have any friends?

The questions help build an idea of the jacket owner’s life and a story can be developed from it.

Enjoy and talk soon,


Story Time – “Fortunately”

A brand new series of posts, of the “try-at-home” kind: each week – a new storytelling game to play with your little authors.

Since every kid is different, I won’t bother you with “recommended age” type of instructions. You are the best judge of that. In the end, if everybody has fun, that’s all that matters!

Work with schools, Aguilar Branch : Italian boys listening t...

This week’s game is called “Fortunately, Unfortunately” and is very simple. Each person takes a turn at contributing to a story. It can start something like this: “Once upon a time there were 4 birds living in a red wood bird house in an old oak tree right outside the house of the village doctor. Unfortunately…”. The next person continues the sentence. Then they add “Fortunately…” and it’s up to the others to take it from there. And so on. You can alternate between “fortunately” and “unfortunately” and keep the story going for as long as you like or until somebody falls asleep.

Enjoy and talk soon!