Friday, December 3, 2010

"you can't catch me"

"Run, run, as fast as you can!
You can't catch me; I'm the Gingerbread Man!"

It's still fun to chant, isn't it? I'm pondering why this little rhyme is so endlessly appealing to kids, beyond its obvious bounce. An informal trawl of internet sites for teachers suggests that at this time of year, 5- and 6-year-olds all over the country are immersed in The Gingerbread Man. He's handy because he has a festive holiday feel but is resolutely areligious.

Certainly he holds a special place in my heart because it's a family tradition to thread red floss through holes in the heads of our simple, two-currant-eyes-and-a-knife-point-smile gingerbread men and hang them all over the tree. The children and I use a cutter that my mother used as a child, a transparent blue plastic piece her mother bought in the 1930's. I'll post some photos once our baking gets underway. (And gingerbread dough is a wonderfully versatile medium: as young adults my partner and I based a whole holiday party around gingerbread Patsys and Edinas from Absolutely Fabulous.) For me, gingerbread men are a symbol of cozy family comfort during a dark and dangerous time of year.

I think of the The Gingerbread Man as an equivalent story to The Little Red Hen: patterned repetitive plots, rhythmic refrains, an important lesson to be learned. But wait--what is the lesson of The Gingerbread Man? It took me three seconds to realize what everyone else has perhaps always known, but if you hang out with 4 to 7-year-olds your whole life, you could miss it. What little children love is the naughtiness of the Gingerbread Man who gets up half-baked and runs away from home, and their favorite versions are the ones in which the Gingerbread Man actually LAUGHS AT those who are chasing him.

I'm not sure, once they get over the shock of the SNIP-SNAP! at the end, that children go away thinking, "Oh! I'd better stick close to home, and if I do go out on my own, I'd better beware the sly fox who pretends to be my friend but really wants to eat me alive." And while I always make a big deal about the Value of Cooperation when reading The Little Red Hen, I have never, as a teacher, emphasized the Stranger Danger message of The Gingerbread Man.

But I have considered the point of view of the oven.


I didn’t want to let him go,
my gingerbread baby.
I cradled his doughy little body in my fiery belly
I crooned a lullaby to soothe him
through those searing minutes inside:
“Done done done at last in the pan
You can’t leave me till you’re a Gingerbread Man”

But some impatient someone opened the hatch
and he jumped his half-baked gingerbread self
right on out the door. He hit the floor running,
singing the only words he knew, chanting
his spicy little song, singing it all wrong:
“Run run run as fast as you can
You can’t catch me I’m the Gingerbread Man”

Come to think of it he had no ears, bless him
just two little currant eyes
and three little currant buttons
making him think he was all dressed up
and ready to go:
“You can’t catch me I’m the Gingerbread Man”

He ran on his feisty little feet
He ran his sassy little gingerbread mouth
until he came to the river. Fresh as he was
even he knew he oughtn’t to cross that water
but oh poor baby he didn’t know enough

The farmers coming for their bread told me all
about it, how the sly old fox did as he must
and tricked my gingerbread baby:
“Come a little closer, climb a little higher…”
until Old Mr. Fox gobbled that tender little
gingerbread boy, undone by his rush to get over

They always are, bless them

~Heidi Mordhorst 2010
ARR Matey

Poetry Friday today with Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect--click, click, as fast as you can!


  1. Hi Heidi!

    This is excellent! All the little details are perfect.

  2. Tough stringy older boys are often undone, for similar impatience.

  3. Oh, the poor oven! I love that "fiery belly" and the Gingerbread Man's "feisty little feet" and "sassy little gingerbread mouth." Oh, baking cookies is going to feel different this year. Thank you for this interesting post - I've never thought much about this rhyme before. Do you have a gingerbread recipe you would be willing to share? A.

  4. Hi, Heidi. I remember this wonderful poem. So insightful about boy energy.

    I'm still laughing over the gingerbread Patsy and Eddies. Did they have little wine bottles?

  5. Love this spicy fun post. Gingerbread men are my favorite holiday treat :). Good excuse to be naughty for a change . . . great poem!

  6. Oh, I love that poor oven! And the red floss from those naughty areligious little men. And cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger.. thank you for the wonderful poem and accompanying exegesis!

  7. Hee hee...what fun!

    Maybe I'll bake some gingerbread men tomorrow with my boys. Your poem put me in the mood.

  8. Whoda thunk that the oven would have an opinion about this feisty escapee?!? VERY fun!!!

  9. Wonderful poem! I especially love "his spicy little song" and "his sassy little gingerbread mouth" -- and your pov of the oven! Thanks for sharing. Happy holidays!

  10. What a fabulous poem, Heidi! I love the bittersweet memories of the oven--great voice! My 6yo niece just read me The Gingerbread Man a week or two ago. She had such fun singing that taunting song:>)


Thanks for joining in the wild rumpus!