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Iona Opie (1923-2017)

British folklorist Iona Opie died October 23, 2017, in Hampshire, England, at the age of ninety-four. With her late husband Peter Opie she was “one of the world’s greatest experts on the folklore, games and beliefs of childhood,” as the London Telegraph obituary put it. The Opies’ first publication was I Saw Esau in 1947; then came The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (1951), The Oxford Nursery Rhyme Book (1955), and The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren (1959). In 1992, Maurice Sendak illustrated a new edition of I Saw Esau; and that same decade saw the publication of two iconic Mother Goose collections, My Very First Mother Goose and Here Comes Mother Goose, both illustrated by Rosemary Wells (all Candlewick). Of Mother Goose rhymes, Opie said: “There they lie, the nursery rhymes, so much at the back of our minds that we can’t remember when we first learned them. What did they give us, so long ago? A suggestion that mishaps might be funny rather than tragic, that tantrums can be comical as well as frightening, and that laughter is the cure for practically everything.” For an appreciation, see Rosemary Wells’s essay in the upcoming January/February 2018 Horn Book Magazine.

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