Skipping Around the World: The Ritual Nature of Folk Rhymes


I’ve been reading this really wonderful book Sam found at Orca Books a few weeks ago. Skipping Around the World: The Ritual Nature of Folk Rhymes by Francelia Butler.

Published in 1989, it is a collection of international skipping rhymes (or as it is called in my part of the world – jump rope – but I like skipping better).

Butler traveled around the world collecting skipping rhymes from children (and some adults), and divides them into ten categories for analysis:

1. Mystery and Romance
2. Hope and Hopelessness
3. Sex and Skipping
4. Protest: Political and Personal
5. Skipping to Silliness
6. Physical and Mental Agility
7. Food and Feet
8. Role Rehearsal
9. Pondering Death
10. Rhymes of Joy

She discusses the importance these folk rhymes to children, and how children relate to the rhymes, as well as their historical significance, and how they’ve changed over time and distance. Often there are many versions of the same rhyme, or same theme, found across the world. This book was published in 1989, so some time ago now. I don’t see very many kids with jump ropes around nowadays, so I would be interested to know if skipping has declined in other parts of the world or not.

Francelia Butler in her office at UConn sometime in the mid-1980s.

I looked up Francelia Butler, and apparently she was a real force for the study of children’s literature, and made it into a respected part of academia. Here is an interesting obituary for her in the New York Times.

Here are some rhymes from the collection that I especially liked:

From the Mystery and Romance Chapter –

Intry, mintry, cutry corn
Appleseed and apple thorn.
Wire, brier, limber, lock,
Twelve geese in a flock.
One flew east, one flew west,
One flew over the cuckoo’s nest.

(Hudson River Valley, New York, 1867)

The high skip
The sly skip
The skip like a feather.
The long skip,
The strong skip,
The skip all together,
The slow skip,
The toe skip,
The skip double-double.
The fast skip,
The last skip,
The skip against trouble.

(This rhyme is often skipped in England and the United States)

And from the Food and Feet chapter –

Jelly on the plate, jelly on the plate
wiggle, woggle, wiggle, woggle
Jelly on the plate.
Sausage in the pan, sausage in the pan
Turn it around, turn it around
Sausage in the pan.

(Kenya, 1980)

My father is a butcher.
My mother cuts the meat.
And I’m a little hot dog
That runs around the street.
How many hot dogs can you eat?
[Count until the skipper misses]

(Cherrydale, Virginia, 1949)


(above illustration by Gail E. Haley, from The Skip Rope Book, by Francelia Butler, a 1963 collection of skip-rope rhymes)

One thought on “Skipping Around the World: The Ritual Nature of Folk Rhymes

  1. I never had the pleasure of taking one of Francine Butlers classes at Univ of Conn. But I did meet here once when she came to visit a creative dramatics class I was taking at UT Tyler. She was an amazing person.

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