One-Minute Book Reviews

May 16, 2009

Good Clean Limericks for Children – Poems for 1st, 2nd and 3rd Graders

There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, “It is just as I feared!—

From a classic nonsense limerick by Edward Lear

Anyone who wants to encourage a child to read poetry should memorize three good limericks — stopping just short of any that begin, “There was a young girl from Nantucket” — and recite them regularly. Limericks have five rhyming lines and a bouncy rhythm that makes them easy to remember. So children tend to absorb them effortlessly if they hear them often.

The question is: Where can you find the clean ones? True limericks are always bawdy, some critics say. When they aren’t scatological, they may include double-entendres or other risqué elements. Many limericks on the Web are also plagiarized — it’s generally illegal to quote an entire five-line poem by a living or not-long-dead poet even if you credit the author — and could cause trouble for children who quote them in school reports.

But the Academy of American Poets has posted several out-of-copyright classics by Edward Lear (1812––1888), author of “The Owl and the Pussy Cat,” at, including:

There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, “It is just as I feared!–
Two Owls and a Hen,
Four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!”

The academy also offers facts about the rhyme and meter of limericks at All 112 of the limericks in the 1861 edition of Lear’s A Book of Nonsense appear on a site that abounds with information about his work

A good source of limericks for young children is The Hopeful Trout and Other Limericks (Houghton Mifflin, 1989), written by John Ciardi and illustrated by Susan Meddaugh, available in many libraries. This book is used in grades 2 and up in schools. But some of its limericks would also suit younger children. They include “Be Kind to Dumb Animals” (“There once was an ape in a zoo / Who looked out through the bars and saw – YOU!”), which consists only of simple one-syllable words, and “The Halloween House” (“I’m told there’s a Green Thing in there. / And the sign on the gate says BEWARE!”).

Many limericks are mini-morality tales about people who get an amusing, nonsensical comeuppance. The Hopeful Trout has several in this category. “The Poor Boy Was Wrong” describes the unlucky Sid, who “thought that a shark / Would turn tail if you bark,” then swam off to test the premise. Ciardi refers obliquely to Sid’s fate, but any child who isn’t sure what happened needs only look at the drawing grinning shark and a single flipper.

© 2009 Janice Harayda


  1. Methinks that Lear limerick is flawed because the word “beard” that ends the first line is repeated at the end of the last line. Shouldn’t it be a rhyming word instead?

    Also, it’s too clean, but you did argue that limericks needn’t be racy. I disagree, but what the hell. Your larger point is excellent.

    Comment by oneminutebookreview — May 16, 2009 @ 9:21 am | Reply

    • Excellent point about the repeated word. How can I not have noticed that? I’ve transcribed the limerick accurately, but many purists would agree with you that Lear should have tried harder for variation in the last line.

      Thanks for calling attention to an aspect of the poem many people might have missed.

      Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — May 16, 2009 @ 12:05 pm | Reply

  2. My father knew dozens of Lear limericks off by heart and would quote them often…when I began reading we shared the book, and then went on to read The Owl and the Pussycat etc. I did the same with my child and he loved them too.
    It’s a nice transition into playfulness with the written word

    Comment by Lisa Hill — May 17, 2009 @ 6:52 pm | Reply

  3. I write them for religious, social commentary, and humorous purposes. They can be redeemed and reclaimed from their, “less-than-wholesome” status, to provide good service or just good old-fashioned clean fun. A compact vehicle for God’s Holy Work and other wholesome content. I love them. Thank you for your educational post and obvious love of children.

    Comment by Adrienne — April 7, 2010 @ 8:08 am | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: