Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book


Can you remember the first nursery rhyme you learnt?

This book is the earliest surviving collection of nursery rhymes. It includes 39 rhymes which are still familiar today, such as ‘Bah, Bah, a black sheep’, ‘Girls and boys come out to play’ and ‘Lady Bird, Lady Bird’. Some of the rhymes are now forgotten (particularly those with rude language), including one about wetting the bed!

This book is tiny!

The first children’s books were largely about learning (or ‘instruction’) and behaviour. Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book is unusual because it has been carefully designed to delight and appeal to children. It is very small (7.6 x 4.4 cm) and would fit perfectly in a child’s hand. All of the rhymes are illustrated and the pages are printed in red and black ink.
Today, children’s books are full of pop-ups and beautiful coloured illustrations. In the early days of children’s publishing, however, booksellers were only beginning to explore the possibilities of making books attractive to children.

Who wrote Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book?

Most nursery rhymes do not have known authors – they were spoken or sung aloud and passed between parents, nurses and children. But this was the first time that a collection of rhymes was written down and published. The author’s name appears on the final page – the penname ‘Nurse Lovechild’. The bookseller who appears on the title page, Mary Cooper, probably had a hand in publishing the work – and may even be the real author.

Both volumes one and two were advertised for sale in early 1744. No copies of volume one survive and only this copy of the second volume is recorded.

Some rhymes contain racist language and stereotypes; we have not displayed these pages here.

Full title:
Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book
estimated 1744
Chapbook / Children's book / Illustration / Image
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

Full catalogue details

Related articles

Anthropomorphism in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Article by:
Martin Dubois
Childhood and children's literature

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is crammed with animals: a grinning cat, a talking rabbit, an enormous caterpillar and countless others. Dr Martin Dubois explores anthropomorphism and nonsense in Lewis Carroll’s novel, revealing the literary traditions that underpin it – and those it inspired.

The origins of children’s literature

Article by:
M O Grenby
Childhood and children's literature, Reading and print culture

Professor M O Grenby charts the rise of children’s literature throughout the 18th century, explaining how books for children increasingly blended entertainment with instruction.

Go deeper: Size and scale in children's books

Article by:
Imogen Carter, consultant: M O Grenby
Go deeper, Big and small

From miniature people, to towering giants, playing with size and scale add a fun dimension to children’s books!

Related collection items