In Memoriam: Iona Opie, Folklorist and Children’s Literature Expert

Iona Opie. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

On the 23rd of October 2017, Iona Opie, internationally recognized folklorist of children’s literature and childlore passed away at the age of 94. Along with her husband, Peter, her legacy includes such publications as The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (1951) and The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren (1959).

Their first publication was I Saw Esau (1947), a slim precursor of the wide spine of The Oxford Nursery Rhyme Book (1955). The Opies applied years of rigor to an oral culture too commonplace to have received attention before: their scholarship, informally communicated, was important to the postwar discovery of the words of ordinary people. “It took 50 generations to make up Mother Goose,” Iona said. “Nursery rhymes are the smallest great poems of the world’s literature.”