Iona Opie, a British folklorist "who collected, codified and published children's rhymes, riddles and street culture," died October 23, the Guardian reported. She was 94. It all began during World War II, when "the publishing company that employed her husband, Peter, was exiled by the London blitz to Bedfordshire in 1943, and there the couple walked by a field of corn. Iona, who was pregnant, picked up a bug and recited 'Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home/ Your house is on fire and your children all gone.' It flew and they were 'left wondering about this rhyme--what did it mean? Where did it come from? Who wrote it?' " the Guardian noted.
The "keeper of western manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, Oxford," discovered the Opies "collecting riddles, and recommended them to the Oxford University Press." Their first publication was I Saw Esau (1947), "a slim precursor of the wide spine" of The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (1951) and The Oxford Nursery Rhyme Book (1955). Other books include The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren (1959), Children's Games in Street and Playground (1969), The Classic Fairy Tales (1974).
After her husband's death in 1982, Iona Opie continued the work alone, publishing numerous books, including The People in the Playground (1993), Tail Feathers from Mother Goose (1988) and Here Comes Mother Goose (1999) and Children's Games With Things (1997).
The universities of Oxford, Southampton, Nottingham and Surrey, and the Open University, awarded the Opies honorary masters' degrees and doctorates; and they won international literary medals, the Guardian wrote. Iona was made CBE in 1999.