Ravel originally wrote Ma mère l'oye as a piano duet for the Godebski children, Mimi and Jean, ages 6 and 7. Ravel dedicated this work for four hands to the children (just as he had dedicated an earlier work, Sonatine to their parents). Jeanne Leleu and Geneviève Durony premiered the work.
The piece was transcribed for solo piano by Ravel's friend Jacques Charlot the same year as it was published (1910); the first movement of Ravel's Le tombeau de Couperin was also dedicated to Charlot's memory after his death in World War I. Both piano versions bear the subtitle "cinq pièces enfantines" (five children's pieces).