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Iona Opie

As a child

“I grew up in a very sheltered, placid environment, and the first time someone was nasty to me I crumpled in tears,” says Iona Opie. “I didn’t learn to speak up for myself until I joined the Air Force. You need to be introduced to possible troubles early on from a safe haven, then it’s not such a shock later.” Out of this experience grew I Saw Esau (first published in 1947, it was republished in 1992 with appropriately wicked illustrations by Maurice Sendak), a splendid selection of jeers, riddles, and jump-rope rhymes chanted by generations of children. In partnership with her late husband, Peter Opie, Iona has edited many acclaimed books of children’s folklore.

As an adult

Having dedicated most of her life to collecting and preserving children’s rhymes and games, Iona is considered the world’s authority in the field. “I suppose my message in life is ‘Nursery rhymes are good for you,’” says Iona. “If you acquire a nursery rhyme-ical attitude, you’re not at all put out by life’s little bumps and bruises. They just seem funny and entirely normal.” Iona lives in Hampshire, England, where every morning she starts her day by opening a nursery rhyme book and reading from it at random.

As an artist

Iona has garnered resounding praise for her best-selling My Very First Mother Goose and the follow-up titles Here Comes Mother Goose and Mother Goose's Little Treasures, all illustrated by the award-winning Rosemary Wells. At the heart of these timeless volumes is the unflagging enthusiasm of Iona for her subject matter – and her own decidedly wry sense of humour. “Mother Goose will show newcomers to this world how astonishing, beautiful, capricious, dancy, eccentric, funny, goluptious, haphazard, intertwingled, joyous, kindly, loving, melodious, naughty, outrageous, pomsidillious, querimonious, romantic, silly, tremendous, unexpected, vertiginous, wonderful, x-citing, yo-heave-ho-ish, and zany it is,” Iona assures. “And when we come to be grandmothers, it is just as well to be reminded of these twenty-six attributes.”

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