Welcome to Kids Rhythm and Rock’s third annual Children’s Music Roundup! For those of you new to the blog, each year I compile a list of my favorite albums, then organize them by categories that change from year-to-year. Normally I would have had this list up by the middle of December, but 2020 being 2020, it threw a last minute curveball that delayed things a bit.
The past year was a time filled with incredible challenges for children’s music. The pandemic found performers having to completely redefine how they brought their music to the masses, racial and social justice came to the forefront, and the GRAMMY controversy spurred the children’s community to action. Through it all though, one constant remained – children’s music continued to grow in ways that left listeners enthralled, enriched, and entertained. So let’s say hello to 2021 by taking a look back at the year that was in Children’s music. Don’t see your favorites in the list below? Add them in the comments!
Note: There has been a lot of discussion in the past few weeks regarding albums by BIPOC performers. I have denoted those albums with an (**).
Wide World of Music
Fiesta Global performed by Flor Bromley**
Live in LA performed by Aaron Nigel Smith & 1 World Chorus**
Songs Across the Pond performed by David Gibb and Brady Rymer
I became aware of Ginalina’s music in 2016 when I featured her album Forest Friends Nature Club as one of the first reviews to appear on Kids Rhythm and Rock. My appreciation for her music has continued to grow over the years and includes the early 2019 release of the children’s album It Takes a Villageand this year’s Small but Mighty. Based in Vancouver, Canada, Ginalina is a two-time Juno-nominated singer-songwriter who, with the release of her first picture book, can now add author to her name.
Based on the track “Save the Mighty River” from Small but Mighty, Ginalina’s debut picture book The Mighty River, is a beautiful read aloud. The book opens with a full-page illustration of over two dozen animals that can be found around the river areas in the Pacific Northwest. As the rhyming story unfolds, each animal is mentioned, with the book ending with the same full-page illustration. There are several layers to each two-page spread. The first is an I spy element where the rhyming text mentions 2-3 animals or aspects of nature which are part of the detailed illustration on the facing page. The second layer is skillfully incorporated in the top corners of each illustration and depicts the moon and its phases as seen in the Northern Hemisphere. The next layer features humans doing all kinds of outdoor activities that children can relate to including swimming, canoeing, collecting rocks along the shore, and having evening bonfires. The final layer is one that I think families will identify with more with this year than in previous years. It is the depiction of children enjoying nature independently, as well as with different generations of their family. The illustrations by Kelley Wills are reminiscent of woodcuts which by employing a simple but stunning color palette, perfectly capture not just the tone of the text, but the subtle beauty and wonder that nature has to offer.
Children will want to read The Mighty River again and again while discovering new animals and searching for them within the illustrations. The Mighty River would work well as a family read aloud, in storytime or as an introduction to lessons for younger children on ecology or woodland habitats. The MIghty River is currently available through www.beautifulworldbooks.com.
Ginalina was kind enough to take a few moments during this busy time to answer a few questions about her newest venture.
Nature plays a big role in your music and is the focus of The Mighty River. Where does your love of the outdoors come from?
Growing up in Toronto, sandwiched between Kensington Market and the Annex, my family didn’t own (or need) a car and this gave me plenty of time to experience the slow pleasures that come with walking everywhere. I heard birds chirping, saw leaves turning, felt seasons changing, smelled roses in the gardens, and noticed all sorts of little wonders – like bees in gardens and clouds in the sky. I think my love for the outdoors happened naturally, by spending time with it. Now that I live in Vancouver, I’m all the closer to trees, mountains, and rivers, and I always feel happier and calmer near them.
“Save the Mighty River,” the song that inspired The Mighty River appears on Small But Mighty, your fifth album for families. What was it about this song that made you want to reimagine it as a picture book?
The song is a powerful narrative from the River’s perspective, telling all about the wonderful things that the River does for the animals and plants and humans. It’s also a call to action prompting humans to imagine how we can partner together to protect her from harm. It’s absolutely appropriate for children – full of delightful imagery and filled with beautiful sounds. I wanted to capture that beauty and the biodiversity of the River in a way that children could engage more deeply in. I see the book as complementary to the song and I envisioned it to be a sort of keepsake that young readers can return to again and again, just as they would with nature, finding something special and new in it every time.
You and illustrator Kelley Wills collaborated on this project. How did this partnership come about?
The story of how we got connected to each other is really neat. What started off as an Instagram search landed me on a picture of a t-shirt design for a folk duo. That design ended up being the catalyst for a partnership and collaboration. I resonated with Kelley’s work right away and reached out to ask her to consider creating my upcoming album cover. We built a strong art synergy and I appreciated how well we communicated and how we both shared interests in music, nature, and interesting storylines. When I had the vision for creating The Mighty River, I could only see it with Kelley’s illustration style, and I’m glad she was excited, like me, to do this project together.
Take us through the process of transforming “Save the Mighty River” into book form.
My kids love stories and when they were young, we poured through stacks and stacks of wonderful picture books. From this, I began to admire flowing text, detailed illustrations, interesting borders, and themes that celebrated strong relationships. In making the song into a book, those elements were very important to me, as well as making the River the star.
The book process started with Kelley and I discussing the vision, colour scheme, and overall vibe. She suggested a reduced colour palette which I adored. Then we researched the river ecology of the West Coast and I pulled my family pictures to inspire the characters. Kelley sketched all the illustrations by hand, inked them in on an iPad, and then brought them into a program for vectorizing. I gathered ideas from children on how to protect the river and Kelley prepared them in the layout, along with some open-ended pages for reflection and drawing. I had so much fun recreating the phases of the moon in the page borders and Kelley did a beautiful job on the cover. Regarding the text, I adapted it from the song and made it lyrical and suitable for read-alouds. I am so thankful for the help of my kids and Linda and Grayson Smith to edit the book. This project took approximately ten months to complete, from concept to publication. It was a very meticulous process and I enjoyed every step.
If you could share one message with children and their caregivers, what would it be?
At the centre of The Mighty River is a sense of community and interdependence – humans with humans, humans with nature, nature with animals, animals with rivers, rivers with humans, etc.. I hope children and readers notice that message and see themselves as part of the environment’s past, present and future narrative. I want readers to get excited about river life and feel inspired to enjoy, explore and care for it together.
What’s next for Ginalina?
I’m proud of my team and this book. I’m so thankful for my illustrator, the editors, and the support of Peppermint Toast Publishing. We are planning a virtual book launch and I’m looking forward to connecting with children and others over their thoughts on The Mighty River. There are a fair number of supplementary materials (music video, sheet music, activity pages, stickers) which should make the entire experience for readers more enriching. The journey of becoming an author has been so rewarding and it definitely feels like a natural extension of my music career. In fact, with the encouragement from our publisher, Kelley and I are already working on our second book and I hope to share more about that when we’re farther along.
Please enjoy the video for Ginalina’s song, “Save The Mighty River” which features animated versions of some of the illustrations from The Mighty River.
Welcome to the second annual Kids Rhythm and Rock Children’s Music Roundup! Oh what a year 2019 was for children’s music with a cornucopia of sounds, fantastic messages and moments of fun combining for a true wealth of musical riches, Whether you check the CDs out from the library or listen to them on your favorite streaming service, all of the albums below are definitely worth a listen (or two, or three…).
Best Animal Album Covers Come for the covers, stay for the amazing music! Swamp Romp Performed by Johnette Downing with Scott Billington Winterland Performed by The Okee Dokee Brothers
Be Mindful, Be Kind
The Love Performed by Alphabet Rockers KindredPerformed by Renee & Friends Under the Big UmbrellaPerformed by Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could Ageless: Songs for the Child Archetype Performed by Jon Samson
Vancouver-based Ginalina’s latest album for families is a delightful, up-tempo celebration of love. Beginning with the opening track, “Welcome to the Neighbourhood,” It Take a Village draws listeners in by emphasizing the importance of community and opening our hearts and embracing one another. This theme continues in the title track, “It Takes a Village” all the way through the final song on the album, the beautiful, “Goodnight Lullaby.” In between are songs that let children know that change doesn’t have to be scary, that they can be anything that want when they grow up, and that doing things together is better than doing them alone.
Ginalina continues her tradition of writing songs that honor nature with tunes about the winter weather, the arrival of spring, and the life cycle of bunnies. Also included on the album is the French tune, “Dans la Rivière (tous Connectés) and the multi-lingual song “Apple Apple Seed” which is performed in English, French and Chinese. Ginalina’s folk-pop sound is accentuated by uplifting melodies and lyrics that encourage audience participation. “It Takes a Village” is a true delight.
UPDATE: It was announced today that It Takes a Village is nominated for the 2019 Juno (Canada’s Music Award) for Best Children’s Album.
Forest Friends’ Nature Club Album performed by Ginalina Target Audience: Preschool to Grade 3
My favorite time of the year to take long walks in the great outdoors is in the fall, when there is just the beginning of a crispness to the air and the leaves are changing colors and drifting to the ground. It’s during September and October when those hurried footsteps of summer begin to slow down that I take a deep breath and really enjoy all that is around me. Tonight, I realized as dusk began descending so much earlier than I thought it should, that autumn is really not that far away. And it was then that I remembered this lovely CD that first came to my attention in the spring.
Canada-based singer/songwriter Ginalina perfectly captures the gentle, awesome wonders of nature in Forest Friends’ Nature Club Album, her second album for children. A couple of years ago Ginalina, along with her three young children, spent weekly adventures in the forests of British Columbia’s Pacific Spirit Regional Park. It was these walks in the woods that became the inspiration for the 15 original songs in this collection. Ginalina’s beautiful soprano blends perfectly with among other instruments, banjo, violin, guitar and in one case kazoo, on these folk/pop/country infused tunes. Included on the album are two French language songs. “La Vie est Belle” which has such a catchy melody that even listeners who don’t know any French will find themselves singing along and “Play…Jouer,” a bilingual echo song that children will enjoy participating in. Songs about friendship and love (of one another and blueberry pancakes) are in this collection as well.
There are also several fact-filled songs that are so well written that children won’t realize how much they are learning. “Rainbow” teaches listeners about the colors and science that make a rainbow, while “Honey; We Love You” is a great ode to the honey bee. In addition, “Shapes are Everywhere” is filled with beautiful harmonies that describe all the shapes that can be found in nature. The delightful video below could easily be used in storytime, in the classroom, or before a family walk as an introduction to this concept.
In this world where everyone, no matter how young, is always plugged in, Forest Friends’ Nature Club Album is the perfect reminder to take time, relax, and enjoy the amazing beauty that is all around you.