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More Than Raffi: Caspar Babypants

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What is your favorite song about fruit? “Bananas in Pajamas“? No, too suggestive. “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts“? No, the lyrics are always rudely interrupted. “Apple Bottom Jeans“? Yeah, probably. But let’s choose a song that is a bit more family friendly. A lot more soothing…

“Movin’ to the country,
gonna eat a lot of peaches
Movin’ to the country,
Gonna eat me a lot of peaches.”

Peaches” by The Presidents of the United States of America peaked at #29 on the Billboard Hot 100. Released in 1995 and accompanied by “Lump,” the band’s self-titled debut album was a great success and has been certified triple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Chris Ballew has led PUSA throughout the years while also maintaining other side projects. Yet what started as a donated album to a nonprofit for parental support became a much beloved icon of the Kindie Rock scene.

Caspar Babypants was born in 2009 in Seattle, Washington. Although he still primarily performs in Washington, his music has touched the hearts of many a librarian and family. Ballew takes note from the guitar strumming simplicity of Raffi and Elizabeth Mitchell. Even when the music gets fast and spunky it never feels heavy and overproduced. The debut album Here I Am! (2009) is an excellent introduction to Caspar Babypants. Ballew provides a wide array of musical genres to spice up even the mundane–yet crucial–things that all children should learn about. A country twang accompanies “Small Black Ant” that quickly turns into a ragtime piano riff as parents can tickle their children while imitating an ant climbing over their bodies. Bust out your egg shakers for “The Island Hop,” a fun tongue twister to celebrate summertime.

To read more, check out my More Than Raffi series over at Riff ‘N Ralk Music Tock!

 

 

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More Than Raffi: Jim Gill

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Ask any children’s librarian if they’ve heard of Jim Gill and their reaction will be an exasperated yes followed by an insistence that you need to check out everything on shelf followed by a rambling, star-struck story about when they met him. Jim Gill has been making the library circuit for quite some time, spreading his delightful love of music play to all families. From the very beginning, Gill has focused his music primarily to be moved with, sung along with, and, finally, laughed on the ground with. Jim Gill began using music in his early twenties with a weekly play group for families with young children with special needs. The parents soon saw this deceptively casual play group have an impact on their children’s development, encouraging physical and language development and interpersonal skills.

To see more on my review, check out my More Than Raffi series over at Riff ‘N Ralk Music Tock!

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More than Raffi: Wiggleworms Love You!

Whenever children’s music is mentioned on the wisp of a passing wind, without a doubt:

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Children’s music gets a bad rap in the music community. It’s every parent’s punching bag and I don’t blame them when their experience is clouded by mass-marketed refuse such as Dora the Explorer or awful collections of “traditional” songs collated by corporations like this travesty of Row, Row, Row Your Boat by Fisher Price. Rest assured, there’s no need to listen to this garbage when you have a beautiful rendition by Rob Newhouse on Songs for Wiggleworms. Here, watch this baby jam:

The past decade has seen a wonderful upsurge of quality kids music harking back to the slower tempo of Raffi and Mister Rogers and the upbeat–but not explosive–music of Tom Paxton. While kids music has always been educational, we are now seeing well produced and well written music for kids with an uptick in creativity and variety. Unfortunately, children’s music is still trailing the stigma of 90s synthesizers and hasty basement recordings, of musicians that chose to write kids music as a hobby or because they thought their grandchildren were huge fans. Although their intentions are kind-hearted, the results can sometimes be ghastly. Fortunately, this poorly produced and grating music is being overshadowed by much greater musicians with backgrounds in musical performance, a passion to educate and entertain kids, and, also, access to real instruments.

In conjunction with Riff ‘n Ralk Music Tock I have decided to start reviewing some of these fine examples of the Children’s Music genre starting with the best there is: Old Town School of Folk Music based in Chicago, IL. Their Wiggleworms program is for early childhood and the teachers have banded together to make two phenomenal CDs: Songs for Wiggleworms (2000) and Wiggleworms Love You (2005).

These collections are exemplary in three ways:

  1. The musicians know what works – They have tested this music in advance in their programs for children (for ages birth-5 years). They also have educational backgrounds in musical education for children and have put a lot of research behind their choice of music.
  2. If you don’t like one singer’s voice there are 40+ other songs to listen to on each album!
  3. Enormous celebration of traditional songs, including some in other languages. Knowing traditional songs and rhymes allows your child to participate with other children, encouraging the unity of communities through song as encouraged by The National Association for Music Education.

Underlying all these reasons is the encouragement for dance, movement, and singing that courses throughout the collections. Songs such as “Little Red Wagon” by Tim Knuth (Wiggleworms Love You 2) and “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” by Rob Newhouse (Songs for Wiggleworms 2) can be used in the lap for baby bounces. More guided dancing for older kids include the upbeat acoustics of “If I Was a Bird” (Wiggleworms Love You 28) by Stacey Buehler that encourages children to flap like a bird, swing their elephant trunk, hop like a kangaroo, swing from the branches like a monkey, slither like a snake, and run fast like a cheetah.  Buehler even quiets her strumming for the ground snake movements, giving a fun contrast for kids to jump up and start running fast like a cheetah.

Participating in music allows a child’s brain to fully comprehend music. While we may only want to listen to our favorite music with our children, music FOR kids has an enormous bounty of benefits for children. These include a verbal invitation to participate, clearly spoken lyrics, and repetition that allows a child to predict and participate. And when you participate with your child, you are fostering a loving and fun atmosphere around music. For example, the rollicking fast “Drive the Firetruck” (Songs for Wiggleworms 25) by Rob Newhouse isn’t the most exemplary achievement in musical composition. But when you add super fast movements to the lyrics, kids will be rolling on the ground in their creative laughter (which I’ve seen and it’s adorable).

Final Review: A+  

Audience: Birth-5 years

These teacher musicians know how to revamp classic tunes with original songs mixed in. The blend between upbeat and calming will get your kid rockin’ without overstimulation. The best part about a compilation? Skip the musicians you can’t stand.

While the general perception of kid’s music is negative, that is most certainly not the case. I hope to provide guidance in finding great, accessible music available for your kids that won’t cause your face to melt (and not in the good metal music way).

Still curious? Check out this excellent article by PBS Parents, “What Music Should My Child Listen To?

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5, 4, 3, 2, 1–Song Catchers Library!

Last summer, I met with fellow music enthusiast and partner in early literacy crime Heather (Little Literacy Librarian) to discuss the lack of resources specifically geared at music programming. There is Singable Picture Books with Emily, Storytime Song chords by Shauna Tominey, and (of course) Jbrary for all your recorded storytime rhyme needs. But what if you are looking for recorded music that deals with a specific theme? What if you need another song that uses rhythm sticks in your storytime or classroom?

Spawning from the minds of two youth librarians, Song Catchers Library emerged. Serving as a simplified database for recorded music, educational professionals can search by a hierarchical list of categories through our pages at the top, the tag clouds on the side, or simply by searching the site. I’m sure there is a much better organizational model out there for something like this (hello, information science graduates!) but we, as the administrators, are already familiar with the ease of WordPress blogging. Furthermore, pages, categories, and tags fulfill our basic need and the format is clean and accessible.

In addition to recorded music, we also wanted to provide rhymes that take a familiar tune but rewrite the lyrics in order to fit a theme or action. We’ve called these re-tunes and we hope that they provide fun additions to storytimes that will spotlight the ability to turn anything into a song. SongCatchers Library also provides a page of recorded lullabies (great to highlight in baby storytimes), and classic recorded songs.

As the library grows, it inevitably becomes more useful. Because we are only two librarians we seek your assistance! Do you have your own catalog of recorded music? Submit your songs on our main page by filling out the survey. When time allows, we will add these submissions to our site.

We hope you enjoy the site and please let us know what you think!

www.songcatcherslibrary.wordpress.com

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