From the Author
"A number of years ago, I was watching the movie, Cinema Paradiso, when it cut to the scene of a hen roosting in an abandoned car. Immediately the words of a 1920s street rhyme my father had taught me flashed into my mind, Chicken in the Car, and the Car Can't Go... that's how you spell Chicago. He'd also taught me a companion rhyme that went A Knife and a Fork and a Bottle and a Cork...that's how you spell New York." Within days, I had decided to write a riddle rhyme for each of the 50 states." So says Howard Schrager, a teacher of 30 years standing.
Riddle Rhymes were part of children's culture for hundreds of years, and Schrager doesn't want to see them vanish. "Doing riddle rhymes requires listening, and, moreover, hearing. With games like Jeopardy, you either know the answer or you don't. With Riddle Rhymes you already know the answer, you just don't know which answer it is. You just have to hear the name arise inwardly, and to recognize it. This involves an interesting process of sound sifting, and provides a unique slant on thinking, and on competition."
"With Riddle Rhymes," explains Schrager, "the answer to the riddle is 'wrapped up' in a verse. Your job is to decipher the name of the state it suggests. My job is to lead you, and to mislead you, at the same time. All the sounds of the verse do not have to do with the name of the state. Some are there to throw you off the track, others just to make the verse sound better. The rhythms and meter of the verse also help reveal the answer. It is very important to say, That's how you spell before making your guess. Why, is one of the subtle lessons learned while doing Riddle Rhymes. Every person, and every group, brings something different when doing Riddle Rhymes. Needless to say, the state is not actually, or literally, spelled out. Rather, this is what you might call magic spelling."
Because Riddle Rhymes are quasi-poetry, children repeat them subconsciously. This stimulates areas of their minds/brains which childhood culture has always done for them. These artistic centers in the brain are becoming less and less valued in our overvaluing of more abstract kinds of learning. Yet, Riddle Rhymes even stimulate interest in actual spelling, in geography, too. As such, they find a welcome place in the classroom, as a reward, as enrichment, as rich lesson material. Because of their relation to geography, they make a fine travel activity. Riddle Rhymes are great around a campfire, too, or as an icebreaker at almost any social gathering. They also encourage levity in the work place. One a day, on the bulletin board, really does something for the workplace. Schrager has done Riddle Rhymes with people of all ages. What he's discovered is that there is an active child's mind that resonates in even the oldest among us.
An illustration by artist Sarah Madsen, adds a new dimension and imaginative turn to each of the 50 Riddle Rhymes. Schrager says, "Riddle Rhymes resemble potato chips. Whenever people try a few, they keep craving more." The best way to grasp what Riddle Rhymes are is to try a few.