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Author/Illustrator: Pam Adams
Publisher: Child’s Play International
Format: Board Book, also in paperback and hardcover
Age Range: Baby, Toddler, Preschooler
Kid Love Factor: 4/5
Adult Sanity Factor: 2.5/5
There was an old lady who swallowed a fly once sat solidly in the list of Boo’s favourite books; for many months, we ‘read’ it together almost every evening. I use the term read loosely in this case. Because this is such a classic children’s story/song, I don’t actually pay much attention to the words. In fact, once Boo can read for himself, we’re going to need a long discussion on regional differences and why Mommy sings the story slightly ‘wrong’.
The titular old lady appears on the cover, smiling benevolently at all who behold her. She’s rather eclectically dressed and can’t be described as anything less than morbidly obese. Which is about what you’d expect from someone who can swallow an entire cow, I suppose. Also visible is a small blue fly in the center of her belly.
Once you open the cover, you’re again greeted by the same image. But this time, the fly in her belly is visible due to a hole in this page and all the ones that follow it. The fly is actually part of the illustration on page 16. Opposite, there’s a brightly coloured page with another picture of our poor little blue fly, this time flying and sans elderly gastric juices, but with a big green spider on a nearby web.
The following page is similar, only this time the hole in the old lady’s stomach on the right is large enough that you can now see the green spider that surrounds the fly on page 16. On the left is the spider with an approaching robin.
The book continues like this, all the way through the traditional bird, cat, dog, cow, and horse verses. Each animal is pictured on the appropriate page, with a foreshadowing image of the next animal in the sequence beside it. The hole on the right continues to get larger to let you see each surrounding animal, and the hole on the left nicely reminds you of the previous verses on the off chance you haven’t already read or sung the lyrics 87,631 times already. The spiral text may be good practice for those just starting to get a handle on this whole reading gig, too.
After the final verse, there's an extra double page spread that repeats the entire song and has a picture of the old lady chasing a horse, who's chasing a cow, who's chasing a dog, etc.
Although I’m very fond of the illustration of the old lady herself, I can’t say the animals thrill me very much. They’re quite stylized, which they have to be to fit in the not-exactly-natural setting they find themselves in, but I don’t find most of them to be aesthetically pleasing. Boo, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to mind at all. The drawings and backgrounds are certainly brightly coloured, which provides ample visual stimulation.
On the up side, the spider picture is stylized enough that even an arachnophobe like me has no trouble looking at it. Though come to think of it, maybe this book is the reason I'm having the trouble I am with this one.
As I said, I don’t typically read this book to Boo; I sing the song as I was taught it. There are only minor differences between this book’s version and the one I grew up with, the main one of which lets me add a bit of a game to the song. Every time we sing the line about the spider, which is “wiggled and jiggled and giggled inside her” in my version (as opposed to “wriggled and wriggled and jiggled”), Boo gets tickle attacked. This results in loud baby laughter just in time for the word ‘giggled’. Great for building interactions and anticipation as well as basic animal labelling.
An old lady
Who swallowed a horse.
She’s dead, of course.
Autism Spectrum Bonus: The book is very brightly coloured, which may appeal either more or less to those with sensory processing differences than to the more neurotypical among us. There are lots of opportunities to encourage imitation through animal noises, gestures, or signs. The repetitive nature of the book may also be good for prompting otherwise rare vocalizations. This was one of the first books to allow Boo to anticipate and seek out contact. Before long, he'd be leaning into us when we got to the spider line, anticipating his tickle. If we were singing the song while doing something else, he'd always make sure to come within arms' reach for the spider's segment as well, just so we'd make him giggle. Very rewarding interaction (i.e. pure glee) for his parents, and fun for him. For older and/or more verbal children, there can be discussions about the old lady's viewpoint and why she thought eating all those animals was a good idea even when your child clearly knows differently. Some kids may also be interested in talking about why the ending is humourous.
There was a cute board book with colours and holes,
Not bad, all told.
There was an old lady who swallowed a fly on Amazon.ca
There was an old lady who swallowed a fly on Amazon.com