Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocketful of rye
Baked in a pie.
Nursery rhymes. Full of rhyme and rhythm and odd images. Not so full of sense.
Rock-a-bye baby in the treetop
When the wind blows the cradle will rock
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall
And down will come baby, cradle and all.
The English nursery rhymes specifically are connected with the name of Mother Goose, whence they are also called 'Mother Goose rhymes'. Mother Goose is an old folklore figure or stereotype—an archetypal elderly country woman, who was originally interpreted as a teller, or mythical originator of fairy tales; but her focus shifted to nursery rhymes in the late 18th century. She also figures in a nursery rhyme herself, and is the subject of a traditional Pantomime. She is usually portrayed wearing a tall hat and shawl (the old Welsh peasant costume), except when she is an anthropomorpic goose.
Characters from nursery rhymes, like Old King Cole, Humpty Dumpty, or Mother Goose herself are Public Domain Characters that may feature in all kinds of works. The writer may try to explain their rhymes—often enough, with a Parody origin.
Hey-diddle-diddle, the cat and the fiddle
The cow jumped over the moon
The little dog laughed to see such a sight.
And the dish ran away with the spoon.
Modern hearsay lore often attributes macabre and horrifying "origin stories" to nursery rhymes; the most widespread possibly being that "Ring Around the Rosy" is a song about the plague. These assertions are Urban Legends. The origins of most nursery rhymes are simply not known, but it's quite obvious that most of them are nonsense rhymes that never made much sense.
- In "Maid Maleen", the tower inspired children to sing a nursery rhyme as they passed it.
- In Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, Alice meets up with Humpty Dumpty himself and Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Resulting in her being quite Genre Savvy: she knows that the king has promised to send all his horses and men to help Humpty Dumpty, and she awaits the crow with great anticipation, to break up the fight.
- JRR Tolkien wrote several "expanded" versions of nursery rhymes, filling in background to make them "reasonable". He attributed them to Bilbo and put one—from "Hey diddle diddle"—in Frodo's mouth in the The Lord of the Rings.
- His rendition of "Hey, diddle diddle" is, in fact, a drinking song. The musical does a rendition of it.
- Jack Spratt of Jasper Fforde's Nursery Crime books is himself a nursery rhyme figure and runs across several others. (Though his ambit includes Fairy Tales as well.)
- Mrs. Wren in John C. Wright's Chronicles of Chaos makes use of rhymes as enchantments. Taffy ap Cyrmu, in the same work, takes his name from one: "Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a thief."
- In Neil Gaiman's Stardust, nursery rhymes contain great secrets. One character jeers at the way ordinary people recite them to babies.
- Neil Gaiman's short story "The Case of the Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds" humorously places Mother Goose characters in a parody of crime noir, as "Little" Jack Horner, private eye, attempts to solve the murder of Humpty Dumpty.
- In Diana Wynne Jones's Deep Secret, one of the Deep Secrets of the title is hidden in a nursery rhyme, and the hero has to interpret it in order to save the Love Interest's life.
- Agatha Christie titled several novels after nursery rhymes. In A Pocket Full of Rye, and more famously And Then There Were None, victims are murdered in the manner of a nursery rhyme.
- In Devon Monk's Allie Beckstrom novel Magic to the Bone, Allie uses "Miss Mary Mack" as her mantra
- Thief: Deadly Shadows contains several nursery rhymes, all of them rather disturbing (and accurate foreshadowing).
- Dead Space has the very very very creepy singing of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in it.
- Mixed-Up Mother Goose, a 1987 Sierra game in which the all the characters have lost their items, and you have to go through the game reuniting them.
- In Sinfest,
- In Erstwhile, Maid Maleen ends with peasant girls singing such a verse, inspired by her tale.
- who'll probably lay a golden egg at some point during the performance