Monday, March 31, 2008

Good Readin' for Yer Little'uns!

Every once in a while it's fun to let my salaried occupation leak over into this world of kiddierock blogging, because I feel like children's music and literature can and should be intertwined in the library and at home. So, here at the quarter-year mark, I present to you my list of the best of the best in kidlit (so far).

Picture Books:

Alfred Digs, Lindsay Barrett George (Greenwillow Books)
An adventure through the alphabet. Alfred tunnels through a dictionary in pursuit of his pet ant, Itty Bitty, who wants to go to the zoo (A to Z!).

Hello, Day!, Anita Lobel (Greenwillow Books)
Lobel's classic and charmingly simple illustrations describe how animals greet the new day and welcome another night. Perfect Toddler Time or bedtime picture book.

How I Learned Geography, Uri Shulevitz (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Shulevitz's inspirational, poignant, poetic picture book memoir will make a fascinating read-aloud for middle grade students, and give a kick in the pants to anyone who thinks their own life ain't so good.

Little Hoot, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, ill. Jen Corace (Chronicle Books)
The classic switcheroo: An owl doesn't want to stay up all night like Mom and Dad say, he wants to hit the sack early, like his little owl buddies. Hoot begrudgingly plays until he's finally allowed some shuteye. Reverse psychology at its cutest.

No! That's Wrong!, Cui Xu (Kane/Miller)
A heeelarious story about a rabbit wearing underwear as a hat, not understanding, of course, that it's underwear. Every animal he meets admires his new hat, while an "off camera" narrator keeps insisting "No! That's wrong. It's not a hat." Great interactive read-aloud!


We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball, Kadir Nelson (Hyperion)
In a perfect world, this book would win the Newbery and the Caldecott for 2008. Nelson tells the story of the Negro Leagues in the authentic voice of a fellow baseball player. This'll make you love baseball even if you had no prior interest, and Nelson's text and illustrations will make longtime fans of the game swoon.


Jellaby, Kean Soo (Hyperion)
This graphic novel introduces a character who is vulnerable, protective, empathetic, brave, and totally lovable. GREAT adventure story for younger readers who aren't quite ready for a scary adventure.

My Dad's a Birdman, David Almond (Walker Books)
Fantastical, funny, heartwarming/breaking, lovely. Almond's Dahl-like story and Dunbar's illustrations combine magically in this tale of trust, nurturing, and, well, silliness!

Shooting the Moon, Frances O'Roark Dowell (Atheneum)

Fifth and sixth graders will be able to get their heads around the seriousness of the subject matter (sibling in Viet Nam war), but it's written in a way that will draw them in, as well. In other words, this isn't another one of those heavy books for kids that only adults will read.

The Willoughbys, Lois Lowry (Walter Lorraine Books)
Sure, we Children's Librarians will get a kick out of Lowry's tongue-in-cheek fun with classic kid lit scenarios (I laughed out loud several times), but tweens (and even younger grades, as a read-aloud) will be in on the joke, as well, and may even pick up a couple of the novels listed in the annotated bibliography!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Lunch Money live at Donnell !

Oh, man, are we excited! This is it, folks, the last big kindie rock blowout at the Donnell Central Children's Room before we have to vacate the premises. Lunch Money is fast becoming a critics' and musicians' favorite, and I've heard a couple o' rumors about some "names" showing up for this show, so if yer anywhere near NYC on Saturday, April 12 @ 3:30pm, pop in and join the fun. Hope to see you there!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Friday Free-for-All # 6

Our sixth quick overview of recent kids' music:

Astrograss, Let Me Stay Up All Night

Brooklyn's purveyors of bluegrass for kids finally release their first full-length CD. Their specialty in concert is putting Shel Silverstein lyrics to bluegrass music, and on this CD, although there are no Shel poems, Astrograss display their influences openly and proudly, including the lyrical playfullness of Silverstein and the wit of John Hartford, grandfather of "newgrass". Great covers of "Drunken Sailor" and Oh! Susanna", along with over a dozen originals. Wonderful fun!

Joe McDermott, Everybody Plays Air Guitar

The fourth kids' CD from Austin, Texas-based McDermott continues his string of pop rock hits for the little ones. Dig the powerpop title track and the doo-wop rewrite of "I've Been Workin' on the Railroad". And this is one busy guy: Along with recording children's tunes, McDermott scores video games and educational DVDs, and often performs his songs live with the Austin Symphony Orchestra. Rock on!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

***Andy Mason***

Sometimes old-school is cool ... Fred Rogers, Bob McGrath, Ella Jenkins ... those folks kept it simple and sincere, fun and meaningful. The same goes for Andy Mason's Everybody Likes Pizza!, an album of originals and covers that's a throwback to kids' music when it only came in LP form, featuring Mason's vocals and acoustic guitar ... only!

Mason hails from Clovis, NM, home of Norman Petty's recording studio where Buddy Holly cut some of his biggest hits. Andy's no stranger to the music biz himself: He and fellow musician Joshua Belter have recorded and toured as acoustic duo Fast Time Constant for about ten years, and Mason jams with Clovis-based roots rockers Fun Brothers Band.

Andy extols the joys of family pizza night on the title track, and follows up with the positive affirmation "You Can Be Anything (If You Try)". Mason's "ZYX..." may not exactly be Moose Charlap's "Backwards Alphabet" from the 1966 TV production of Alice Through the Looking Glass, but it's silly fun just the same. Mason rewrites another well-known ditty with his own "The Birthday Song"; while "The Owee Song" not only presents a picture of an injury prone kid, it provides an entertaining way to practice the days of the week. "How to Make a Burrito" is, well, instructions on how to make a burrito, including the dangers of using too many jalapenos.

Mason closes the album with four choice covers: a fiery version of Richard and Robert Sherman's "I Wanna Be Like You (The Monkey Song)" from Disney's 1967 film The Jungle Book; Claire Senior Burke's "Robin in the Rain"; "Shake My Sillies Out" by Raffi and Bert & Bonnie Simpson (man, I had no idea it took three people to write that song!); and David Mallett's classic "Garden Song" (aka "Inch by Inch").

This is old fashioned children's music in the best possible sense: pare it down to the basics and let the songwriting and arrangements shine through. You can tell from the interactive and singalong nature of his songs that what you have here is a snapshot of Andy's live show. It would be interesting to hear Mason's half-dozen originals performed with a full band, but as it is, six strings and a voice are all he needs to make a great kids' album.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Astrograss live at Donnell !!!

We are VERY excited to have Astrograss perform at our Shel-ebration! on Saturday, April 5! They'll kick off the afternoon of Shel Silverstein and poetry with a concert at 2:30pm. After the show, we'll have crafts, activities, and refreshments, and a copy of Don't Bump the Glump!, Silverstein's newly rereleased first book of poetry and drawings, will be given away as a door prize!

If you're in town or have friends and family nearby, everyone is welcome!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter !

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

***Mr. Leebot***

Wanna try something different? Mr. Leebot combines the minimalist weirdness of Bruce Haack and The Residents with the quirky pop sensibilities of DEVO and They Might Be Giants to create his debut kids' album Activate!, quite possibly the best New Wave CD for children on the market!

Now, Mr. Leebot's style didn't just spontaneously burst into being. Austin, TX, resident Lee Davila has stirred the musical pot with several spoons: Check out Davila's other projects, including the now-defunct The Grown-Ups, and especially his totally awesome current grownup band Manager's Choice. You can hear Davila's Ska and New Wave influences run throughout all his musical endeavours, including his kids' CD.

The party begins with the latest dance craze "Ants in the Pants", followed by Mr. Leebot's somber theme song, um, "Mr. Leebot". "Brock Brock Chicky" sounds slight at first listen, but it's really about the universal possibilities of communication, despite our differences. And everyone's proud of the day they became a "Bathtub Superstar" and could bathe themselves without Mom or Dad's help.

Then there's "C'mon Sun"'s manic call to play, while children strive for proper behavior in the potential hit single and DEVO homage "Good Bot" (oughta be #1 with a bullet on XM Kids!). The Country & Western rave up "Hot Diggity" is Mr. Leebot's version of "Walkin' On Sunshine", followed by another DEVO-style ditty, "Timeout Time", about trying to stay out of trouble (the coda-in-round is pretty cool!).

The spare (vocals & twangy electric guitar only) "I Want a Car" could be an unearthed outtake from Buddy Holly's catalog, while Mr. Leebot ventures into Ween territory with the droogy reggae of "Dig Up the Roots", which initially seems to be about trees and flowers but is actually about family ties.

The album closes with DEVO tribute number three, "Power Up!" (Davila really has the Mothersbaugh vocal style down pat!); then "Fastest Horse", a Riders in the Sky-like ode to being best buds; and finally "Come On Along", a for-sure Nickelodeon or Noggin program intro.

When it comes down to it, though, these songs are about the kinds of things that are a big part of kids' lives: Imagination, dancing, manners, family, being understood, and just feeling good. His sound might not be for everybody, but the kids who dig it will be rabid fans, for sure.

Y'now, if "Square Pegs" ever gets remade as the next retro sitcom (a la "That 70's Show"), Mr. Leebot should provide the soundtrack. I wouldn't be surprised if you heard his stuff on a Dunkin' Donuts commercial or as a kids' TV theme song. Listen for more good things from this guy in the future.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Friday Free-for-All # 5

Our fifth edition of newish kids' music:

Various Artists, Eat Your Vegetables, Please!

As with most compilations, there are stylistically a few hits and misses here. But overall, Peter Farber and his crew over at Wide-Eye Kids have assembled a solid collection of songs about healthy eating, from Dog on Fleas' "Ugly Fruit" (by far the best song on the album) to the Zucchini Brothers' Phish-like "You Are What You Eat", from the Memphis funk of Bill Shontz' "Eat It Up" to Jay Mankita's rockabilly tune "Strong Bones". Perfect, actually, for the Elementary School classroom or Media Center.

Brady Rymer, Here Comes Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could

Even though "rock and roll" is mentioned several times during the CD, this is first-rate Contemporary Country! I mean, some of these songs could be sitting on the Billboard Country Charts, especially "Road Trip" and "One True You". This Jersey boy knows how to write a great tune, and his band delivers a crack performance, as well. A true "Family" album, as all of the songs are about relationships and experiences with parents, siblings, and friends, even the Guthrie and Seeger covers. Top notch!

Randy Kaplan, Loquat Roof

Another masterpiece from the East Coast's version of Mr. David ... Randy Kaplan is the current king of the storysong, and his magic is best witnessed live. If you can't make it to Brooklyn, though, check out "Clothes Dryer", "No Nothing", "The Ladybug Without Spots", or the title track for examples of Kaplan's laid-back, semi-acoustic musical storytelling, the closest thing to Arlo Guthrie yer kids will ever hear. Awesome covers of Leadbelly, the Coasters, Hank Williams, and a song from Annie round things out. Great example of grownup music for kids, kids' music for grownups.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"Jazz is democracy that we hear."

The New Orleans Public Library System was pretty much wiped out when Hurricane Katrina hit in the summer of 2005. Now there's a massive rebuilding of the entire system including, check this out, a jazz-themed branch, a culinary branch, and an architecture branch. Jazz trumpeter Irvin Mayfield is the chairman of the board of the New Orleans Public Library System, and the visionary behind this incredibly forward-thinking project (and author of the quote in this post's title). I know, I know, this is a really nerdy thing to say, but, man! I want to go to those libraries! Here's the complete story:

Trumpeter to Help New Orleans Libraries

Tuesday, March 18, 2008 2:47:45 PM


Jazz trumpeter Irvin Mayfield has traveled the world playing for audiences in smoky bars and buttoned-up concert halls, and he knows the sounds, tastes and sights of this city are unlike those anywhere else. So, he says, the city's library system should be just as unique.

In a $650 million plan unveiled by Mayfield and New Orleans Public Library officials Tuesday, a library system that reflects the city's identity will be built over the next 25 years. Plans include a jazz-themed branch housing early recordings and reviews. "We don't just want to have a library system," said Mayfield. "We want it to be us. We want it to be our style, our identity."

Other branches planned for the next five to 10 years, he said, include a culinary branch based on the city's unique cuisine, and an architecture branch that pays homage to the city's woodworkers and ironworkers. The plan will be spread over more than two decades but will begin in the next two years with the construction of the jazz branch, which will cost about $10 million, $2 million of which will come from the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund, Mayfield said. The rest of the money will come from private donations and fundraisers, as well as storm recovery money from the Louisiana Recovery Authority, the Federal Emergency
Management Agency, the city and the state, he said.

When Katrina struck in August 2005, nine of the library system's 13 branches were damaged. Although all branches are again in operation, some are in portable trailers or makeshift branches set up in temporary venues. Mayfield, chairman of the board of the New Orleans Public Library System, said jazz libraries and music aren't all that different. "A library is democracy inside four walls, the freedom to information," he said. "Jazz is democracy we hear."

Mayfield says music continues to help him deal with the loss of his father, Irvin Mayfield Sr., who drowned during Katrina, and has kept him positive through an exhaustingly slow recovery for the city. On April 1, he will release an album that he started recording with jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra before Katrina struck, flooding out the Basin Street Records recording studio. The opening track is titled "Yesterday." "Going through Hurricane Katrina teaches you something about yesterday," he said. "Every moment becomes yesterday."

Still, Mayfield said it's important to look at what has gone right since the storm. For one, at almost any school in the city -- no matter how dilapidated -- the students are playing music, he said. He says music is still in every part of the city, from the clubs, to the streets to the universities, and there's no reason why it shouldn't be part of the city's library system.

"A library is the only place that brings everybody together," he said. "An immigrant can go there. Homeless people can go there. Anyone from any age can go there and they can all receive what they're looking for."

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Universal Power of Music

A coworker brought this New York Times article to my attention: A teacher in the Bronx taught every student in P.S. 59 the traditional dance of her native Ireland, which led to international recognition for the children. Click this link to read the full article, and make sure to watch the video. Inspiring!!!

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

A Factory-tested Masterpiece

Today my sweet boy is 19 months old. It's pretty mindblowing to witness firsthand the changes that occur every day: Vocabulary, movement, recognition, sense of humor, and, yes, even bald-faced manipulation.

Every evening we play the same CD, Jason Falkner's Bedtime with the Beatles, during Steamboat's bathtime/bedtime routine. That means he's heard it about 578 times, not counting the occasional nap or playtime accompaniment.

In raising our Masterpiece, my wife and I try to expose him to the best of the best, including music. If you haven't already, check out Falkner's masterpiece and pass it on to a friend. It comes highly recommended by Steamboat.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Friday Free-for-All # 4

Welcome back! Here are a few tunes from the past week:

Debbie and Friends, Story Songs and Sing Alongs

Exactly what the title says: Several fairy tales in song form, along with a bunch of singalongable kiddie pop tunes. Very strong Sesame Street feel, and that's a good thing! Debbie Cavalier, Dean of Continuing Education at the Berklee College of Music, uses Carpenters-like vocals and a silly sense of humor to make an entertaining album for preschoolers and early elementary kids.

Great old-school kids' album. Standout tune is "Home", which could be a song Paul Simon forgot to record! And check out the Sublime/Sugar Ray-like "Favorite Son (Every Day)" ... oughta be on a kids' show or movie soundtrack. Many of the songs have a post-"Pina Colada Song" Rupert Holmes feel to them, nice arrangements, ear-catching melodies.

The Residents for kids?!? Wait, maybe it's DEVO for little ones, especially on "Good Bot", "Timeout Time", and "Power Up!" Anyhow, Lee Davila's electrorock project from Austin, Texas, is a wonderful oddball of a CD: It may not be a widespread favorite, but those kids who dig it will be rabid fans, for sure.

Cher & Gene Klosner, Stardust

Gentle, well-produced collection of lullabyes and other quiet tunes for bedtime. The Klosners perform originals, traditional tunes, and songs originally made famous by The Monkees, The Carpenters, John Denver, Bing Crosby, and others. This 2-CD set includes instrumental versions of every song, giving you extended chilldown time at the end of the day.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

***Gunnar Madsen***

Well, I guess I made a donkey out of both of us, because I assumed this guy was just another goofy, over-the-top kids' performer, judging by his past kids' album covers and song titles. BOY, WAS I WRONG! I'm Growing has to be the most inventive, unique children's music CD of the year, and a majority of the magic was achieved using nothing but voices and piano.

Gunnar Madsen is a seasoned songwriting veteran, with several grownup CDs and kids' albums under his belt. He founded the a cappella group The Bobs in the early '80s (thus the abundance of voices and vocal percussion on I'm Growing), and has written music for theater, film, television, and video games. He also wrote the score for the musical The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World, and produced the documentary Svetlana Village. And all of this experience informs the work on I'm Growing.

Man, where to begin with the highlights: The explosion of vocals on the title track, the Harry Nilsson dead ringer "Walkin' Back to Texas", the Todd Rundgren-like "Simple", or the 7/8 time better-than-anything-on-the-Lion-King-soundtrack "Sun Comes Up". "I Feel a Waltz Coming On" is the best anti-waltz waltz you'll ever hear; and "Raise Your Voices", well, could be a Polyphonic Spree song, could be a tune from Godspell ... at any rate, it's a rousing hymn to the power of love.

And then there's the ridiculous but amazing "Mozart's at the Window", Madsen's lyrical take on Mozart's 40th symphony; the witty words of "Pumpkin Hair" and "Library Party"; the kitty chorus of "There's a Bowl of Milk in the Moonlight" (pair that one with Kevin Henkes' Kitten's First Full Moon); and Madsen's almost mantra-like version of "Shenandoah".

To fully appreciate and comprehend the music on I'm Growing you should read Gunnar's bio and the album's liner notes ... the songs will make that much more sense. It wouldn't matter to a kid, of course, as this is simply a solid collection of great songs, but it's incredibly interesting to see how the course of Madsen's life affected the development of these particular tunes: Madsen didn't simply make up and throw together a bunch of songs just to have a kids' album on the market. You'd find out, for example, that "Raise Your Voices" and "I Feel a Waltz Coming On" are from a musical-in-progress; that "Cutest Little Guy" is Madsen's homage to the songwriting styles of Sammy Cahn and Roger Miller; and that Madsen is replying to Otis Redding's "(Sittin' on) the Dock of the Bay" with "Walkin' Back to Texas".

Brilliant arrangements and performances. Period. And funny! And fun! And entertaining for everyone in the family! What more could a kid and his grownups want?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Viva Presley!!!

Remember Professor Presley and his History Rocks album? Well, his alter ego Bill Reynolds, humble Encinitas, CA, Social Studies teacher, recently posted a video single from his grownup band's album Screaming Beneath the Waves. Judging from the images in the video and from the title of the song itself, it's obvious at whose feet these guys worship, but the song ups the ante: Ladies and Gentlemen, "Westerberg" by Lo-Fi Nipple!

Two disclaimers: Crank it up **LOUD** and watch out for the cussin'!

Saturday, March 08, 2008

***Funky Kidz***

Normally, I steer clear of any children's CD that uses "z"s at the ends of words ... more often than not it's an artist's overcompensation for not being as hip as they want to be. But this album totally blows that theory out of the water: Funky Kidz funks the crap out of three old-school Disney songs, a couple Wizard of Oz tunes, a Beatles song, some public domain oldies, and an obscure David Mallet composition. Guar-an-teeeed to get the Preschool party started!

New Orleans mom Lauren Busch Singer decided to liven up the world of children's music by assembling a bunch of NOLA bands and performers and having them put their personal touches on some kids' classics ... y'know, give those ol' familiar tunes a kick in the pants. So c'mon, ride the ridiculously stanky groove of "Zip A Dee Doo Dah" with Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk, git took to church with Meters' bassist George Porter Jr.'s version of "He's Got the Whole World In His Hands", and feel the swamp creep up yer ankles with The Radiators' "Froggy Went A Courtin'".

Bonerama turn in a great version of Randy Newman's Toy Story classic "You've Got a Friend In Me", and Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes' rendition of Dumbo's "When I See an Elephant Fly" outstrips the original while staying pretty faithful to the animated tune. Amanda Shaw & the Cute Guys' cover of "Garden Song" is more country Cajun spice than Crescent City soul, while the most low-key performances happen to be from The Wizard of Oz, as ex-Cowboy Mouth Paul Sanchez teams up with trumpet and guitar for a coffeehouse version of "If I Only Had a Brain" and Theresa Andersson croons "Somewhere Over the Rainbow".

This is a tight group of musicians, not only musically but on a friendship level, as well. You can tell by browsing their websites and myspace pages that most of them know each other, often performing on the same bill, and their camaraderie and their New Orleans pride shine through on every track. Buy several copies for your family, friends, and local libraries!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Friday Free-for-All # 3

More music for the tiny masses:

Great pop songs, actually, sung in Bari's Rickie Lee Jones-like voice. My only suggestion would be to trim each song by at least half. Standouts include "Nothing I Wouldn't Do", "A Day at the Beach", and "Jump", all sonically inspired by Natalie Merchant, Jewel, and Sheryl Crow.

Johnette Downing, Dixieland Jazz for Children

An innocuous introduction to Dixieland music. Johnette keeps the lyrics as simple as possible, and gets musical help from veteran Jimmy LaRocca. Make sure to follow up Ms. Downing's album with CDs like this.

Various Artists, Funky Kidz

I generally steer clear of any children's CD that uses "z"s at the ends of words, but trust me, this one's a winner. A bunch of NOLA bands got together and funked the crap out of three old-school Disney songs, two tunes from The Wizard of Oz, a Beatles song, and a couple of public domain songs. A must-have!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


Gotta hand it to Andy Mason, his CD totally got noticed amongst the huge pile of mail on my desk! When yer album is called Everybody Likes Pizza!, you just gotta send it out in a personal pan pizza box, right?

More on Andy's CD soon ...

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Playin' in a Rock and Roll Band

A couple photos of the Daddy A Go Go Band, straight from the Daddy himself. What I wouldn't give to play rock and roll with my kid ... does anyone know of a drumset suitable for an 18-month-old?

{Max Boydston, 13; Jonathan Paz, 16; John Boydston "age redacted"; Jake Boydston, 16}

In action at The Melting Point, Athens, Georgia.