Games and Songs of American Children


Author: Newell, William Wells, with a new Introduction by W. K. McNeil
Publication Date: 1883
Reprint Date: 1998
Pages: xx 242 pp.
ISBN: 9780806313511


This work is the principal folklore legacy of the Arthurian scholar William Wells Newell. Founder of the American Folklore Society, one-time editor of its Journal and brilliant linguist, Newell systematically compiled no less than 160 games and game-songs of English-speaking children. More than one hundred years after its original publication, Newell’s work is still valuable for its insights into the geographic and historical origins of American games and songs such as “Barbara Allen,” “Virginia Reel,” “Ring Around the Rose,” “Handball,” “Hop-Scotch,” and “Ghost in the Cella.” Newell’s methodology demonstrated that games, songs, and rhymes crossed linguistic and geographic barriers just as easily as folktales and legends. Newell also provided the melodies for the songs in his book, a practice not resumed by folklorists until the modern era. Equally innovative was his arrangement of games into categories of use (e.g., “Love Games,” “Playing Work,” “Guessing,” “Games of Chase,” etc.). Finally, Games and Songs is a major collection in its own right and a harbinger of the ideas that folklorist Newell would advance throughout his career.

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