Cock Robin

This picnic table is mine!

While I was writing up some of the text for the little photo album we’ve been creating for our grandsons, Carrie shared a nursery rhyme with me that she learned as a child. No doubt older readers will remember the chanting rhyme for themselves, but younger ones might be surprised that it would find its way into a children’s book:

Well. With that sort of ‘nursery’ rhyme resonating through my consciousness, I thought over my first sentence about the feisty little bird. “They say that Cock Robins will fight to the death defending their own little patch of garden.”

Are either of these approaches really appropriate for children’s reading adventures? Is death, these days, an appropriate topic for consideration by the under-10s, say? Apparently the poem refers to King William the II, known as ‘Rufus’ because of his shock of red hair, who died suddenly of mysterious causes. Back in those days, to add additional symbolic resonance to the poem, robins were universally considered iconic totems of holiness, believed to have acquired their red chest by brushing against the fallen Jesus while plucking thorns out of his brow.

But age-old children’s nursery rhymes often have a macabre sub-text. “Ring-a-ring of rosies, A pocket full of posies, A tishoo, A tishoo, We all fall down.” The skipping rhyme is said to refer to the consequences of the bubonic plague! In the ‘olden days,’ death was a close companion in one’s childhood; nowadays it’s often far removed from children’s consciousness.

I decided to keep both my opening sentence, and the birds’ lament over the death of poor Cock Robin. Death is an appropriate topic for primary school children. It’s one of the main reasons to have a hamster pet for a while in the family, as I seem to recall. Now I’m not a fatalist, but it seems to me that death is a component of life, that we ignore it, or try to pretend it doesn’t exist, at great peril to our mental equilibrium and that of our beloved children, when we finally have to confront it.

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