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Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Black Educator Creates New Spin on Traditional Nursery Rhymes For Elementary School Kids

Audrey Muhammad

Nationwide — Meet Audrey Muhammad, an African American teacher from Raleigh, North Carolina, who is helping Black and Brown children to see more images that look like them in textbooks or on television. She is accomplishing this via her book, Rhymes of the Times: Black Nursery Rhymes, which incorporates history and self-esteem building information in nursery rhymes or “history rhymes,” as some may call it. Do you remember the nursery rhymes “Humpty Dumpty” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb?” Most adults grew up with these nursery rhymes along with others and remember each line. However, did these nursery rhymes teach children anything positive?

According to Dr. Hokehe Eko of Glow Pediatrics, “The growth of the brain, socioemotional and cognitive development thrives the most in children between the ages of 0 and 5, this is also the age range when most kids are taught nursery rhymes. Therefore, it is critical that what children learn in this window of growth is filled with positive references and highlights who they really are because this informs how the child learns and succeeds in life. The new nursery rhymes, produced by the educator, Audrey Muhammad, helps children learn about their history, which also can increase the development of a positive self-image. When self-esteem is increased, it supports their spiritual and mental health. If a child feels good about themselves, he or she is more likely to think a positive thought and do positive things for themselves.

Reflecting on nursery rhymes that she read during her own childhood, the author, who is an educator, decided to write her own rhymes with the intent to express cultural pride and highlight history in a fun and memorable way, especially for Black youth. “Growing up I struggled appreciating my hair and my history. My hair always appeared too nappy and black history was too negative in my view.” Interesting enough, the first nursery rhyme Mrs. Muhammad wrote was entitled, “Pretty Little Black Girl,” which encourages little Black girls to be proud of the hair and skin “that God gave; you’re a pretty little Black girl, smart and brave.” Soon after, she created a meaningful collection of nursery rhymes that she would be proud to read to her young daughter.

Today, those rhymes are in a new colorful format and feature rhymes such as “Martin Had a Little Dream,” which can be read on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Another rhyme, “Off to The White House,” is the only nursery rhyme to be written about the first Black President, Barack Obama. Imagine at 4-year-old a child telling you about Barack Obama or Harriet Tubman?

How did growing up with black nursery rhymes affect her daughter? “The black nursery rhymes helped me to appreciate the way I look and my heritage,” said her 20-year old daughter. “As a young black child, I’m set apart from everyone else for how I look with kinky or curly hair in braids and bows, big lips, brown skin, etc. So, the rhyme “Pretty Little Black Girl” taught me to appreciate myself.”

In this uplifting story book, which is illustrated by Kofi Johnson, Muhammad introduces the concepts of self-esteem and perseverance to young children through rhymes like “Woman on The Bus,” which highlights Rosa Parks. “When I would do storytelling at elementary schools,” she recalls, “Children were excited to guess who I was talking about in this rhyme: ‘There was a woman who sat on a bus, she didn’t talk much or cause much fuss. One day she was asked to give up her seat, though she was quite tired and quite weak…’ Before I could finish the line, the children were raising their hands saying, “Rosa Parks!”

The book delivers the rhymes through vibrant illustrations that complement the musical rhymes, making them fun to read aloud. Mrs. Muhammad has a storytelling style that is fun and engaging; some of her storytelling videos are on YouTube under @virtuemag.

The Rhymes of the Times: Black Nursery Rhymes book is a much-needed update to the stories and fairy tales of yesterday. Not only does it pay tribute to our heroes and leaders of the past, but provides relevance for our up-and-coming young people. It even honors a few modern-day heroes with the rhymes, “Think Like Steve,” “Walk by Faith and Master Your Mind,” and “Oprah, Oprah!” which honors comedian/author Steve Harvey, millionaire/entrepreneur Joe L. Dudley, and billionaire and media guru, Oprah Winfrey respectively.

Mrs. Muhammad hopes that Rhymes of the Times: Black Nursery Rhymes will revolutionize the way children around the country learn black history and feel about themselves just as the movie, Black Panther, has given the world a refreshing and impressive image of black people. Her goal is to get a million books in the hands of 1 million children. She is eager to present talks and writing workshops on the value of integrating culture into the curriculum.

Rhymes of the Times: Black Nursery Rhymes can be purchased via Amazon or at BlackNurseryRhymes.com

For more information on book-signings, storytelling events, speaking engagements or interviews, call 336-901-0122 or email virtuetoday@gmail.com

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