World’s Favorite Songs for Children

by J on July 16, 2010

When I moved from my parents’ house to college, to California, to Oregon, I brought all my good piano music with me, even though I didn’t have a piano after I left home. So when Todd and I did eventually buy a piano earlier this year, I had all my nice familiar stuff handy, and the only hard part was relearning everything.

But I still missed some of the books that I remembered from my childhood – the ones that had been played through so many times that the binding was cracked and everything was held together by thick transparent tape. So I called my mom, and she said that, sure enough, there were still some books at their house and she’d ship them along right away. I think she must have cleared about ten cubic feet of closet space because that was a lot of music.

But the one book that I especially wanted was there: World’s Favorite Songs for Children (1977). I can’t really explain why this one is so special to me. Perhaps because I remember my mom taking requests from it after tucking us in at night, and how I would fall asleep listening. Perhaps because it’s how I learned such catchy tunes as “As the Caissons go Rolling Along” and what a caisson is. Perhaps there were Turkey in the Straw dance parties at our house. Or maybe all of these and lots of other wonderful things I don’t remember anymore.

World’s Favorite Songs for Children comprises six sections: Kindergarten Days, School Days, Cowboy Songs, Foreign Songs, Patriotic Songs, and Church Songs. The table of contents adds another category missing from the cover: Old Time Songs. I can’t think of an old children’s song it doesn’t have. Plus, it has the lyrics to songs like Greensleeves or Shenandoah. (The lyrics to La Cucaracha, however, have been altered, sadly.) Did you know that in She’ll be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain there’s a part about killing the old red rooster and us all having chicken and dumplins? I learned that this week.

The music itself is written simply enough for me to sightread easily, so when Simon is old enough for family sing-along, we can easily plumb the depths of World’s Favorite Songs for Children for weeks without repeating a tune.

In going back through this book this week, I’ve realized anew how much I love it. And here is another reason why.

Page 50 shows Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes the Renaissance song of unrequited love by Ben Jonson (both verses are below, though World’s Favorite Songs for Children only reprints the first stanza):

Drink to me only with thine eyes,
And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kiss within the cup
And I’ll not ask for wine.
The thirst that from the soul doth rise
Doth ask a drink divine;
But might I of Jove’s nectar sup,
I would not change for thine.

I sent thee late a rosy wreath,
Not so much honouring thee
As giving it a hope that there
It could not withered be;
But thou thereon didst only breathe,
And sent’st it back to me;
Since when it grows, and smells, I swear,
Not of itself but thee!

It’s sappy. It’s sentimental. It’s over the top (in my opinion).

Page 51, which faces page 50, shows The Old Gray Mare (She Ain’t What She Used to Be).

I’ve decided to believe that the editor of World’s Favorite Songs for Children had a big crush on a young woman in middle school, was spurned after months or years of pining away, and now as an adult, figures she knows who she is and she is playing music from this book, and she will get the message.

What’s not to love?