Welcome 2018 with Dolly Parton’s I Believe in You

Hello 2018! I have to say, after the hustle, bustle and general stressfulness that comes with the holidays or as the song says, “the most wonderful time of the year,” I was really looking forward to the calm and quiet of January. I don’t generally do new year’s resolutions, but I did make a promise to myself that I would be kinder in thought and reaction toward those around me. Unfortunately, Mother Nature has made keeping that promise a wee bit difficult. Much of the country has been dealing with weird weather the last few days and in Chicagoland, it has been no different. We’ve been in an extreme deep freeze since before Christmas, there was snow, wind and today, ice. With each day like this that passes, I’m finding it more and more difficult to keep my promise of kindness. And that’s what makes Dolly Parton’s latest album so timely.

It’s hard to fathom that in a career that spans five decades, I Believe in You is Parton’s  very first album for children, but it is. The 13 songs in this collection are all written by Parton and many are inspired by books like The Little Engine That Could, which are distributed through her Imagination Library program. In a time where bullies abound and people of all ages are speaking harshly and disrespectfully about one another, songs such as those found in this collection are definitely welcome. This album is filled with themes of friendship, acceptance, having confidence in yourself and others, and love. Included are songs such as “Responsibility” and “Makin’ Fun Ain’t Funny” that teach young children important life lessons as well as the upbeat “Chemo Hero” which tells what life is like having cancer from the point of view of the child. It is an empowering song that is important for not only children who have cancer to hear, but for their friends and family as well. Also included is a track of Parton reading her book, “Coat of Many Colors,” as well as a new recording of the song with the same name.

True country music is not a genre often found in children’s music, which makes Dolly Parton’s album a welcome addition to library collections and family listening. In addition, all proceeds benefit Dolly’s Imagination Library, which over the past 22 years has sent over 98 million free books to over 1 million children in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. For more information, visit Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.


School Library Journal’s Top 10 Music of 2017

School Library Journal’s Top 10 Music of 2017” is out and it’s another great list (even if I do say so myself!). Unlike the GRAMMY nominees and some of the other best of the year lists which include musical releases between October 1, 2016 and September 30, 2017, the SLJ list only includes musical releases from 2017.

The criteria used to compile this list is slightly different as well. Along with the best overall quality, musicality and kid/family appeal of an album, the SLJ reviewers also look at selections from the point of view of librarians and teachers and recommend the best albums of the year to use in programs or the classroom.

This year’s Top 10 is varied enough to have a little something for everyone. Each album deserves a space in every library collection. Did your favorites make the list?

Revvin’ Up the Reindeer performed by Brady Rymer and The Little Band That Could

I don’t know about you, but I can’t believe that Christmas is only two weeks away. It feels like we were just getting ready for Halloween and now 2018 is just around the corner. So, with the holiday season quickly approaching, the final children’s album that I would like to shine a spotlight on is Revvin’ Up the Reindeer from Brady Rymer and The Little Band That Could.

This collection of 13 all original songs is a joy to listen to from beginning to end. The amazing musicianship of Rymer and the band is evident in every song as they bring a rock feel to songs such as “Revvin’ Up the Reindeer” and “Hanukkah Rocks,” a little bit of Americana to “Trim the Tree,” and an almost old school country/western vibe to “Peace Be to All.” Delightfully, the lyrics are as well written as the music with “Christmas Peace” retelling the Christian story of Christmas, “Rainbow Candle” capturing the quieter moments of Hanukkah, and “Baby New Year” introducing listeners to that pudgy little baby who wears a top hat, diaper, and a sash.

While this album wouldn’t work in most school or library program settings, it is a must have for all libraries that have circulating holiday music collections. This new set of holiday songs are tunes that families can enjoy listening to together and parents won’t mind visiting again and again. For a little taste of what to expect, check out the video below or visit Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could on YouTube to see additional videos from the album.


Best Children’s Album GRAMMY Nominees

This past year was another amazing one for children’s music. Whether you like the more traditional kids music, jazz, rock, folk, EDM, pop, world music or the blues, there was something for every family. To be considered for the 60th GRAMMY awards, albums had to be released between October 1, 2016 and September 30, 2017. Below are the five albums that are nominated for Best Children’s Album (click on the blue titles to see my reviews). The GRAMMY awards will be announced on Sunday, January 28.

Brighter Side performed by Gustafer Yellowgold

Feel What U Feel performed by Lisa Loeb

Lemonade performed by Justin Roberts

Rise Shine #Woke performed by Alphabet Rockers

Songs of Peace & Love for Kids & Parents Around the World performed by Ladysmith Black Mambazo

The Mitzvah Bus performed by Mister G

Latin GRAMMY winner Mister G brings his unique blend of musical genres, languages, and education to The Mitzvah Bus. Originally released in 2015, this high energy, Jewish-themed celebration is definitely worth a second (or if you’re like me, a first!) look.

Mister G’s trademark clever lyrics are evident from the very first song, “Challah-lalala” and continue through a menu of delicious foods in the songs “Latkes for Breakfast” and “Matzah on my Mind.” The education continues with the funk-filled “Flood’s Gonna Come,” a  retelling of the story of Noah and the Ark, “Purim Party Song” and the ska-inspired “Hanukkah,” which delve into the history and traditions of the holidays. The title song, “Mitzvah Bus” tells a tale of good deeds and helping others while “Bevakasha” places emphasis on the power of the word “please.”

One of Mister G’s unique strengths is his ability to weave different languages together into a seamless, beautiful song. On The Mitzvah Bus, he combines not two, but three languages (in this case English, Spanish, and Hebrew) into lyrics that tell of a dance-party filled with friends in “Hola Shalom” and the glorious wonders of nature in the beautiful “Naturaleza.” In Mister G’s hands, the flow from language to language is seamless making each song a lyrical masterpiece.

Surrounded by a group of talented musicians, Mister G and his acoustic guitar breathe an unusual blend of funk, jazz, rock and world music into the album. While many of the songs on this album can’t be used in library programming, the songs about food could easily be used in programs about family traditions. The Mitzvah Bus would be a great addition not only to collections where Jewish-themed music is in demand, but also in collections where world music and family traditions are emphasized. In order for us to gain a better understanding of one another, it’s important to learn from each other and The Mitzvah Bus is a great place to start!

It’s the Holidays! Performed by Lucy Kalantari & the Jazz Cats

It’s hard to believe that we’ve already reached the time of year when the stores put all of the Thanksgiving items on clearance, the pre-Black Friday sales begin, and local radio stations start playing Christmas music. And all of that before the family has even arrived to enjoy the abundance of deliciousness known as Thanksgiving dinner. So, since all signs point to it being “that time of year,” over the next month I’ll be highlighting several new family albums that celebrate the holidays.

First up is the delightful It’s the Holidays! from Brooklyn-based Lucy Kalantari & the Jazz Cats. This collection of five jazz age inspired originals celebrates the holidays between Halloween and New Year’s. The album kicks things off with the clever “My Mommy is a Mummy” (keep this one in mind for Halloween 2018) and is followed by “Grateful,” a rare song about Thanksgiving. This is a lovely tune about family and food, but also about the importance of putting aside our differences and acknowledging those things in life for which we are grateful. Take a listen.

Just as the seasons transition from fall to winter, so do the songs on this album. “It’s Snowing” gets listeners thinking about how fun it is to get all bundled up to go outside and of all the exciting things children can do in the snow when they get there. This fast-paced song would work great in winter-themed storytimes as kids dance to the various activities described in the song like stomp, jump, run, slide, and climb. “It’s Snowing” also acts as a nice bridge to the final two songs on the album.

The title track, “It’s the Holidays!” is a bouncy celebration of Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and a lovely New Year. The refrain, “It’s the holidays in our community/we celebrate all in unity,” encourages listeners to take the time to honor our differences. Finally, the album is capped off with “That’s a Wrap!” a short (1:37 min.) tune that tells listeners “Let’s wrap up this year and say goodbye” and would be a great addition to any New Year’s Eve programs.

While shorter than the average album, Kalantari, backed by a group of amazing musicians, has created an album that families will listen to again and again. It’s the Holidays! is the perfect start to “the most wonderful time of the year.”

Songs from the Monkey House Performed by Jack Forman

Jack Forman, of Recess Monkey fame, strikes out on his own with his debut solo album, Songs From the Monkey House. If you’ve ever listened to Jack’s weekday show “Live From the Monkey House” on Sirius XM’s Kids Place Live you know that his show is high-energy and filled with conversations between Jack and kids from across the country. It is questions from his listeners as well as from Recess Monkey fans and his own family that are the basis for the twelve high octane songs on this album.


Each song is filled with clever lyrics that cover a wide array of topics from the variety of cheeses one may encounter in life, including an ode to that stinky ole blue cheese, to a dog’s point of view at the dog park, to the meaning of the phrase, “I lost my lunch.” Many of the songs are multilayered and provide levels of fun for kids and adults alike. Older kids and grown-ups will especially enjoy “Yodeling Yoda” a fantastic love song to Star Wars, “Candy Tour” which retells the tale of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and “No Name” about a band with plans to make it big until they name themselves Minecraft and receive a cease and desist letter. Jack Forman wrote, provided all the vocals, played all the instruments, and produced and engineered this entire album, proving that he really is a one man powerhouse. Forman’s debut album is a hoot to listen to and one that families with kids of all ages will return to again and again.

Fids and Kamily Awards 2017

It’s that time of year again. Time for the “Best of…” lists to start appearing. First up in the land of children’s music is the 12th annual Fids & Kamily Music Awards. Voted on by a stellar collection of folks familiar with the fantastic offerings from the children’s music industry, this list of the Top 10 albums of 2017 for kids and families is a list of “must haves” for every collection. Don’t forget to take a look at the Honorable mentions, they are great ones to have as well. Keep an eye out next month for the GRAMMY nominations for Best Children’s Album and coming in December, School Library Journal’s 10 Best Children’s Albums of the year for teachers, librarians and families. Are there any albums you wished had made the Fids and Kamily list?

Rise Shine #Woke Performed by Alphabet Rockers

Until now, social justice and children’s music aren’t something that I thought went together. But I was wrong. After listening to Rise Shine #Woke, the newest album from Alphabet Rockers, on repeat for the last two weeks, I am a firm believer that children’s music – children’s hip-hop in particular – is exactly where lessons on social justice belong.

Written by Alphabet Rockers main duo, Kaitlin McGaw and Tommy Shepherd, the music on this album takes on the big themes of inclusion, racism and lifting one another up and makes them accessible to children and families. Timely lyrics about things such as building walls between one another, as well as Michelle Obama’s important message, “When they go low, we go high,” are combined with tight beats to make each song unforgettable. Several of the songs have almost a 1990’s mainstream hip-hop feel (heartfelt rap lyrics combined with beautiful vocals) which makes them perfect for grade school listeners. The lyrics are powerful but never preachy nor didactic. One of my favorite songs is “What Are You?” which highlights the gorgeous vocal stylings of Kimiko Joy singing the refrain, “When they ask you what you are, you respond I’m a star, They don’t really know what they do, It’s no secret that you are you.”

In addition to Goings, this collection of songs features talented guest stars including Cactus Skidoo, Aaron Nigel Smith, Genevieve Goings, and Juan Amador. It’s not just the adults who are sharing the message though. A group of skilled kids rap on several of the songs making them instantly relatable to listeners. The album opens with the impactful interlude “Don’t Wait” which reminds us that we don’t need to, nor should we, wait until children are teenagers to start teaching them these important lessons. After listening to Rise Shine #Woke during these weeks of great discord in our country, it’s very clear that the time to teach these lessons to children of all ages is now.



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