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“Sing a Song of Sixpence”

The maid who made the pastry should be the last to show surprise / For she had caught the blackbirds and popped them into pies!

noteIt’s hard to imagine any reader of the Little House books not being as familiar with this nursery rhyme. Even Grace can recite it when Ma serves a blackbird pie for supper, with twelve birds baked in a thin milk gravy and topped with a biscuit crust. Even though Charles Ingalls had shot the pesky birds in the cornfield and brought them in for Caroline to cook, he seems surprised at what he’s eating, saying, “I’ll be switched!”

In the manuscript for Little Town on the Prairie, however, Pa isn’t quite so pleasantly excited about the “dainty dish” set in front of him. He grumbles that when he used to hunt bear and deer back in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, he never thought he’d eat such small game, and it’s Ma who has to remind him of the old nursery rhyme.



Sing a song of sixpence, a pocket full of rye.
Four-and-twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened the birds began to sing.
Oh! Wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before the King?

The king was in his counting house counting out his money,
The queen was in the parlor eating bread and honey.
The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes,
When down came a blackbird and snipped off her nose!

(from Little Town on the Prairie)

Sing a song of sixpence—
A pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie!
When the pie was opened,
The birds began to sing.
Was not that a dainty dish
To set before the king?

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“Sing a Song of Sixpence” (LTP 9)
     “Sing a song of sixpence, a pocket full of rye”
     “A pocket full of rye”