Book Review: The Cat and The Fiddle, A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes – by Jackie Morris

Jackie Morris can draw animals.  She can paint other things too, of course – princesses with ethereal faces, rowing boats and full-sailed galleons, mysterious landscapes hung underneath gathering storms, whimsical buildings with ornate architecture.  You name it, Jackie can nail it. But she can create animals better than anyone else, effortlessly.  Signing books in shops, doodles flow out of her pen to form the outlines of four legged creatures or mythical beasts.  Her books are a menagerie of soft-hued animals, often the sharp-clawed, ferocious kind that inhabit the wild.  Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

I treated myself to a Jackie Morris book last Christmas, at Simply Books in Bramhall, Manchester. It was THE CAT AND THE FIDDLE, A TREASURY OF NURSERY RHYMES [my doodle was a cat, fat and female, I suspect, disdainfully giving me her back]. And what a treasury it is. Forty nursery rhymes and lullabies, all enchantingly illustrated with water colours! Some were familiar to me, many were not.  It’s always such a thrill to see old favourites revisited with a fresh eye, and so exciting to discover new gems.

Here are all the memories of my early school years, distilled into neat little poems: Hey Diddle, Diddle; Little Bo Peep; Baa, Baa Black Sheep; and my childhood favourite, I Saw A Ship A-Sailing.  There is wealth of material I hadn’t discovered before too, rhymes I suspect never made it beyond the shores of England to the colonies. To Market;  Tom, He Was A Piper’s Son; a lyrical one called Lilies Are White, and my new favourite – I Had A Little Nut Tree.

The book unfolds like a dream sequence.  Mostly everyone in it seems to be on a journey of some kind, moving on, on horseback or ship or in flying wicker laundry basket.  Where are they all going?  To the land of dreams, perhaps, the state of enchantment. Don’t expect cute.  Jackie Morris doesn’t do cute, she does magical, she does surprising, she does pastoral with a kick.

There are surprises on every page. Baa, Baa Black Sheep is not the lamb you’d expect. It’s a huge shaggy beast, carrying a basket of half-finished knitting. Often the animals are gigantic. Chickens and snails are large enough to carry people on their backs.  The backgrounds are full of intriguing detail.  Children will spend hours poring over them, trying to figure out the meanings.

I hope this treasury sells by the truck load.  It deserves to be a classic.


I had a little nut tree

Nothing would it bear

But a silver nutmeg

And a golden pear.

The king of Spain’s daughter

Came to visit me,

And all for the sake

Of my little nut tree.

Her dress was made of crimson,

Jet black was her hair.

She asked me for my nut tree

And my golden pear.

I said, ‘so fair a princess

Never did I see.

I’ll give you all the fruit

From my little nut tree.

Related posts!  You might also want to read these other reviews:

I Am Cat – by Jackie Morris

The Poisoned Honey Cake, by Caroline Lawrence

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Filed under Book reviews

4 responses to “Book Review: The Cat and The Fiddle, A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes – by Jackie Morris

  1. Thanks for this, Saviour. Really lovely. I will send you a private message about the origin of the nut tree rhyme, but you may know it already by now. Hoping at some time I might get to do volume 2.

  2. I love the nut tree rhyme. Get the feeling it’s of royal origin.

  3. It is indeed a truly wonderful book. I might be slightly biased though, because I love all Jackie’s books 🙂

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