Friday, April 10, 2015

Singing a Story: The Magic of Musical Books

Part III: The Magic of Melody

Brigid Finucane here from Merit School of Music in Chicago, where I teach early childhood music and movement classes.

This is my third post about adding singing books to your classroom, and this post will focus on three simple ways of harnessing melody to sing books.

1. Find a song that has been turned into a book, and sing it!  

The best place to do this is a library. You’ll be amazed what you can find in the children’s section! But wait, there’s more. To add a richer dimension, consider pairing books with the recordings that inspired them, e.g., What a Wonderful World, by George David Weiss, Bob Thiele, and Ashley Bryan, illus. This brightly illustrated book is filled with positive images of the world and different cultures and is an often requested favorite of those I teach. The story goes that this song was written specifically for Louis Armstrong in the late 1960’s to quell civil unrest, since he was a beloved civil and cultural ambassador. After introducing Armstrong and the book, I turn the pages while playing a recording of the song. We don’t stop there. We immediately sing it again – but this time without accompaniment.

Little White Duck, A, You’re Adorable, and My Favorite Things also work well – but there are many wonderful options to choose from!

2. Referencing Melodies.  

There are a number of deservedly popular books that reference a well know melody and add or “piggyback” their words onto it.  These books wouldn’t works as well, or at all, if they didn’t have a very specific song and melody as their foundation. Let’s take a look at two:

I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More! by Karen Beaumont; David Catrow, illus. (Tune: “It Aint’ Gonna Rain No More”). This is a great book for colors, patterns, rhyming, body parts….and slightly subversive fun! Also, the illustrations are exceptional (tho’ the little boy is a bit creepy – in an art is subjective kind of way). NOTE: Syllabication is not completely accurate. Be sure to practice before presenting, and make adjustments where necessary.

The Aunts Go Marching, by Maurie J. Manning (Tune: “The Ants Go Marching”). “Dressed in raincoats and carrying umbrellas, a platoon of aunts march through the rainy city streets led by a little girl with a drum in this cumulative rhyme.” (cover). Clever illustrations of numeric expansion highlight this funny take on the classic childhood song.

Other examples: The Seals on the Bus,by Lenny Hort & G. B. Karas, and Cows in the Kitchen, by A. Anderson (Melody: “Skip to My Lou”).

3 Piggybacking Melodies.

For books that don’t have their own melody, use a shared, or “piggyback” melody.  Many rhyming books for young audiences share a similar syllabic count.  Try piggybacking books to common melodies including London Bridge, Frere Jacques, Skip To My Lou, Twinkle, etc. Choose whatever melody complements the text best.

Many use this “piggyback” technique already, with no understanding of how/why it works, and what a powerful tool this is. Certainly that was the case with me, until I attended, by chance, the Imagination Education Conference for Everyone! at National Louis University (created by friend, Kristin Lems), and sat in on a children’s books workshop given by author W. Nicola-Lisa. A chance statement changed forever how I would approach singing children’s books.  At one point, Nicola-Lisa opened wide a two-sided galley of one of his children’s books to illustrate the point that children’s book are a certain, standardized, number of pages, due to printing/cutting/binding mechanics. The galley must have been 8’ x 8’—or larger, with print and image going in various directions on successive pages—a fabulous quilt!  He cited examples where he had to extend an idea to fit into this format. He claimed that most children’s books were multiples of eight, the most common being 24 or 32 pages. Up to that point, I had never given any thought to the format, structure and pagination of children’s books, but when I got home, I devoted myself to counting the pages of my books—and he was right!

At some point, a connection was made between the number of syllables on each page and the syllabication of nursery rhymes. To complete the process, I tested my hypothesis on random books, the first being One Red Rooster. To my delight, I discovered the text could be sung to a number of nursery rhyme melodies, including Skip to My Lou and London Bridge.

Here are some other books, common in EC classrooms:

-I Went Walking by Sue Williams. Julie Vivas, illus. Listeners echo each line.  Charming and gently humorous, especially good for younger children. Great for reflection (What animals do you remember seeing?).  Melody: Are You Sleeping/Frere Jacques or Twinkle.

-Up, Down, and Around by Katherine Ayres.  Nadine Bernard Westcott, illus.
A delightful, rollicking rhyming book about planting a vegetable garden and discovering which plants grow up, down or vine around.  Humorous illustrations.  Melody: Skip to My Lou, London Bridge.


Make list of familiar childhood songs, pick a book, see what works, & make magic happen! Here are a few song ideas to get you started:
Are You Sleeping, Twinkle:  Brown Bear, Brown Bear
Frog Went A Courtin’: Oh No!
Hush Little Baby, It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More: Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes
London Bridge:  A Summery Saturday Morning

Determine whether you want it to be a listening experience, 
 echo/participation, or a bit of both! Have fun singing!


Brigid Finucane has worked as an early childhood music teacher since 1995 while continuing her life-long research into cross-cultural music, dances and stories.  Since 2000, she has taught early childhood and general music at Merit School of Music in Chicago, where she also acts as Faculty Mentor. During her time at Merit, she has developed a curriculum teaching English through music for Merit’s outreach program, and created or collaborated on Merit’s Pre-K through 3rd grade curricula. Brigid is passionate about sharing the joy of singing and music-making, and exploring ways iPads can enhance learning in the music classroom. She is an active member in the Children’s Music Network (CMN), a national organization of singers, songwriters, educators and librarians who believe in empowering children through music.  



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