The people in the playground - Children’s rhymes and folklore - Forms and genres - children’s literature

Children’s literature

Part II. Forms and genres


21. Children’s rhymes and folklore


Andy Arleo


The people in the playground


While technology has certainly contributed to new discoveries regarding children’s folklore, it should be noted that a sensitive keen observer armed with little more than pencil and pad can still yield valuable insights into the life of the ‘people in the playground’ (Opie 1993). The friendly interplay between the sympathetic adult researcher and the eager young informant is evident is the following extract:


I was adopted by a boy with shining eyes, who plied me with jokes and stood on tiptoe to watch me write them down. ‘What is a teacher’s best fruit?’ he asked. ‘A date - in history, you see. What was the egg doing in the jungle? He was egg-sploring.’ ‘Hurry up,’ said a girl to him, irritably, and went away. He continued, ‘Here’s a funny one.’



Such passages, which abound in Opie’s delightful and perceptive chronicle, not only bring the playground to life but also focus on children as individuals. Many past studies of children’s folklore have neglected to deal with the differences among children, some of whom appear to have a special status in their community. It is not uncommon, for example, to a find riddle or joke specialists whose talents are recognised by their peers. A recent in-depth ethnological study in France examines the complex social dynamics in the school yard, showing how play forges friendship groups and how the relationships among individual children within these groups evolve over time (Delalande 2001).