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.”

I Believe in Little Things

I Believe in Little Things performed by Diana Panton
Audience: Preschool to Grade 5
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This is one of my favorite albums of the year. Partly because of the nostalgia attached to several of the songs that tugs at my heart strings, but mostly because of Panton’s beautiful voice and the incredible musicians accompanying her. A Canadian jazz singer, Panton has made a career out of performing top notch music for adults, earning many accolades along the way including a Juno award (the Canadian equivalent of the Grammy award). In this, her first album for children, she lets her voice shine on fourteen lovely, gentle songs that would be perfect at bedtime as a nice alternative to traditional lullabies, during those quiet moments in storytimes and programs, or just those more reserved times of a family’s day. Included in this collection are charming versions of well known songs, some of which are rarely covered, that I’m so happy to see being introduced to children today. Songs like, “Little Things” and “Sing” from Sesame Street as well as “The Rainbow Connection” from The Muppet Movie, “When You Wish Upon a Star” from Pinocchio, and “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Panton is also fluent in French and her mastery of the language is displayed in the lovely song “Alice in Wonderland.” I Believe in Little Things is a must have for every collection.

Some of My Favorites

I’ve spent the last month debating with myself over which album would be the best one to launch Kids Rhythm and Rock. It was a really tough decision. With so much great music being produced every month how was I ever going to choose? So, I decided, why pick just one? How about three instead? Here are several of the nominees (one of which was the winner) for the 2016 Best Children’s Album Grammy Award. Their styles are completely different, but each album shines and belongs in every library collection.

 

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¡Come Bien! Eat Right! performed by José-Luis Orozco. 
Audience: Grades K-5
José-Luis Orozco, a bilingual educator and children’s author, has been writing and performing music for children for more than 40 years. His newest album, ¡Come Bien! Eat Right!, provides 19 bilingual songs on the general theme of healthy eating and nutrition. While many of the songs are educational, they are never didactic. The songs and chants are first performed in Spanish with the second half of the album featuring the English versions. Each song is upbeat and engaging. Topics range from the various kinds of milk to wholesome snacks and the importance of water. Some of the songs feature Latin dance styles, as in “The Fruit Conga,” in which colors and types of fruit are celebrated, and “The Dance of the Legumes,” which not only teaches listeners about the various kinds of beans but also gives step-by-step instructions for a cha-cha-cha. Many of the songs, including “Chocolate” and “Tortilla,” ask for audience participation either through call and response or clapping.  Orozco’s charming voice is woven together with beautiful instrumentation that will delight and entertain children and parents alike. Whether you are a Spanish speaker or not, you will find yourself singing along with both versions of the songs.

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How Great Can This Day Be performed by Lori Henriques
Audience: Preschool – Grade 5
How Great Can This Day Be is a wonderful example of Lori Henriques’s continuing respect for a child’s ability to appreciate the rich, complex arrangements found in jazz music. Much of the original music on this album is built around a full jazz ensemble, with songs crossing from traditional jazz to Dixieland and cabaret and back again.  The subjects range from parks where you can play and harvest edible greenery to how to express joy about the wonderful things in life. One of the highlights is the beautiful tribute to Jane Goodall in “Dream Jane Dream” which Henriques had the privilege of playing for Goodall herself, last fall.  Although most of the songs are single voice, Henriques does include two duets. “Beau Paris” features her young son, who delightfully joins her in singing a variety of phrases in French and the charming ode to friendship, “I Am Your Friend,” on which she and her husband sing a sweet duet. Listeners will love the rich sounds of the moaning trombone, whispering flute and piano.

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Home performed by Tim Kubart
Audience: Grades K-3
Tim Kubart is a man of many talents. He’s the host of the Sprout Channel’s morning show, Sunny Side Up, the highly energetic Tambourine Guy for the amazing Postmodern Jukebox and a creator and performer of music for children. And, oh yes. The winner of the 2016 Best Children’s Album Grammy award. And the album that won that Grammy? Home, Kubart’s second album for children. As with his debut, this album is filled with pop songs that will have listeners singing and, in some cases, dancing along. By writing the lyrics from the perspective of a child, Kubart and fellow songwriter Matt Puckett are able to capture the highs and lows of everyday life and convey them in a way that the target audience can relate to. The album is bookended by songs that look at the concept of home in very different ways. “Last Turn Home” emphasizes the fun of going away but recognizes the important feeling of home as the place where you belong. In contrast, the final song, “Moving Day,” shows a different perspective with the acknowledgment that home isn’t a physical place but rather wherever your family is. The songs in between cover topics such as the arrival of a new sibling, the wonders of creating art, the joy of “Dancing in the Kitchen” with your family, and, in “Better,” featuring Laurie Berkner, how much better it is to do things together with those you love. The infectious hooks and melodies will have you singing along in no time. For more about Tim Kubart, check out this interview from the June issue of School Library Journal.