There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly (this particular edition illustrated by Bari Weissman with music arranged by Michael Kohn) is one of those stories from my childhood that now, looking on it as an adult, I am completely baffled by. It’s a childhood staple, for sure. But just like the author doesn’t know why the old lady swallowed the fly, I have absolutely no idea why this book is a childhood staple.
I mean, it’s just so nonsensical. Admittedly, that is probably what endeared so many people to it…but I just don’t understand. And this book has been rewritten and illustrated a rather large number of times. I couldn’t even tell you how many versions of it there are. I do know, however, that this is the one I grew up with and the one that I read as a child. And, as a child I was rather fond of it. Perhaps this fact is to spite the truth that I know find this book utterly ridiculous.
Was it the lyrical aspect that pulled me in as a kid? Was it the absurdity of each animal that she swallowed? Was it the fact that each ridiculous thing got more and more ridiculous until finally reality came back to slam into the old woman? I couldn’t tell you. I don’t know why she swallowed the fly and I don’t know why I found it so entertaining. I find myself wondering if it was me or more my sister, since this was actually her book.
Anyway, the story began thanks to Rose Bonne who wrote the lyrics and Alan Mills, who composed the music. This duo began the nonsense that would one day become a widely popular children’s tale. Though, back then, it was called “I knew an old lady.”
Do I hate it? Well, obviously not. But do I think it is certifiably absurd? You bet.