Tracing the Origins and Development of Wordplay and Puns in Children’s Literature


Over the course of this project, I will be focusing on chronicling the origins and subsequent development of wordplay and puns in children’s literature. My analysis will be framed by four key stages of children’s literature, ranging from the genre’s initial iteration as nursery rhymes to a nineteenth century example represented by Lewis Carroll. Following on from this, I will consider the works of Dr Seuss, before concluding my project with a more contemporary author, Michael Rosen. I intend to demonstrate the careful development of children’s literature over a significant period of time, namely from its humble beginnings as vocal nursery rhymes to the absurd and outrageous humour for which the genre is known for in recent times. Moreover, I will also shed a light on the purposes of such literary devices in children’s literature, with the inclusion of texts which demonstrate the emphasis on humour or worldbuilding.


I decided to utilise the Timeline function on the Knightlab website to chronicle the origins and subsequent development of wordplay in children’s literature. This particular method of information management was particularly attractive to me as it enabled me to present the chronological development of children’s wordplay in a clear and concise manner. The primary data utilised in this visualisation is historical dates, with each author organised from earliest to most modern. Moreover, there is additional information relating to each author’s background and significant works which is clearly presented on their respective slides. The data collated on this timeline clearly displays the complex development of wordplay in children’s literature, most notably from its humble origins in nursery rhymes, to its multifaceted nature in the contemporary works of Michael Rosen.


To compliment the Timeline function, I used the Juxtapose tool to highlight the evolution of puns from the Victorian era to the present day. To facilitate same, I used two separate images. The ‘before’ image dates back to the Victorian period and it includes several owls with the caption ‘Owl Aboard, a humorous reference to the common phrase ‘all aboard’. The ‘after’ image is a modern art piece featuring a well-dressed cat with the caption ‘The Great Catsby’, a clever manipulation of the famous literary work ‘The Great Gatsby’. By placing both images beside each other, it is evident that the power and popularity of puns has endured throughout the centuries. Whether it is a Victorian audience or a modern one, it is clear that these clever linguistic twists are woven into the very fabric of our society. This in turn echoes the success of the ‘Timeline’s’ children’s authors.

Works Cited

Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. 1865. London, Macmillan and Co, 1866. 

Lovechild, Mrs. Tommy Thumb’s Songbook: For all Little Masters and Misses: To be Sung to them by their Nurses till they can sing them themselves. Glasgow, J. Lumsden and Son, 1815

Rosen, Michael. Hairy Tales and Nursery Crimes. 1985. Harper Collins Publishers, 1987.

Seuss, Dr. The Cat in the Hat. Random House, 1957.

—. How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Random House, 1957.

—. Green Eggs and Ham. Random House, 1960

—. The Lorax. New York, Random House, 1971.

Please note that all pictures used have been fully credited in their respective visualisations.