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Music Together Singalong Storybooks: A Review, by Barratt Miller

I’m back with more about Music Together from a children’s librarian’s perspective! A quick recap about me: I’m a youth services librarian in a small rural library. I attended a Music Together Teacher Training in May to improve my mixed age storytimes for children age 0-3. I wrote about the experience in two posts here on Little eLit.

Today, I’ll be talking about Music Together’s new Singalong Storybooks. (Full disclosure: I received free review copies of all three titles in both board book and picture book format from Music Together.) Music Together just created Singalong Storybooks for three of their most popular songs, which happen to be three of my personal favorites:

HelloEverybodyCover Hello, Everybody! Based on Music Together’s Hello Song; illustrated by David Hill.

SheSellsSeaShellsCoverShe Sells Sea Shells; illustrated by Bruno Merz.

OneLittleOwlCoverOne Little Owl; illustrated by Nancy Meyers.

If you’d like to get a taste of what the storybooks look like or some extra tips on how you might use them, I recommend watching the “Using Your Singalong Storybook Musically” video. It models some great interactive reading practices, and I love that the families they feature don’t sound like professionally trained singers. You can also listen to the songs for free via the same page.

I’d originally planned to review each book individually, but I realized that the majority of my comments were the same for all three books. Instead, I’ll break my review down by three criteria: Illustrations and Design, Parent Information, and Usability.

Illustrations & Design

One of the first things I noticed about the illustrations is that they suit the style of the songs. Hello, Everybody! has cheerful, colorful, cartoon-style illustrations that fit the welcoming and fun tone of the song. She Sells Sea Shells, which is a dreamy kind of song, has pencil and watercolor illustrations in more muted tones that suit the subject matter. I was surprised by the illustrations in One Little Owl, however. While the lyrics are silly, I tend to think of it as a spooky song because the music is written in a minor key. The illustrations capitalize on the silliness, which works well, but definitely startled me at first.

Music Together sent me both hardcover and board book versions of the three titles. I was a little apprehensive about the board books, as adapting a picture book to a board book can be a challenge. Each page, thankfully, has a limited amount of text in both formats, creating a good balance between text and illustration. While the illustrations look a little pinched at the top of the board book pages, all the important elements are there. While I wouldn’t use the board books in a storytime setting, they’d be great for one-on-one sharing with babies and toddlers who need sturdy pages to turn.

Parent Information

All three books provide plenty of information for parents. Each book has 7 sections geared towards parents: Welcome, Using the Book, About Music Together, About the Song, Activities, Sheet Music, and Getting the Music. The Using the Book section is a good introduction to the Singalong Storybooks for all parents, including those who might never have heard of Music Together before. The Activities sections are excellent and give parents a great starting point for practicing dialogic and interactive reading strategies with their children!

While all of the information is potentially useful to parents and caregivers, there is a lot of front matter between the title page and the first page of the story. The Welcome! and Using the Book sections are great for first-time readers, but the About Music Together and About the Song sections would be more appropriate in the end matter. That information isn’t necessary to using the book; most readers will flip right past it impatiently to get to the start of the story.

Usability

Of the three books, I think that One Little Owl and She Sells Sea Shells are the most versatile because the text in the books matches the lyrics sung in the recording. Parents reading one-on-one and librarians leading a storytime have the option to read the book aloud, sing the book a capella, play the recording, or sing with the recording. This is especially valuable in a one-on-one setting with parents who haven’t heard the songs before. They can listen while they share, which can be especially valuable for shy singers.

The text in Hello, Everybody! doesn’t match the song lyrics on the recording. While the book does a great job of illustrating some fun ways to adapt the song, it can’t be used in tandem with the recording the way the other two books can. This is no problem for Music Together families who know the “Hello Song” inside and out, but I imagine that readers without that experience would find the book a little confusing at first.

I’m planning to test out One Little Owl and She Sells Sea Shells in my storytimes to see how these work in a storytime with shy singers. Unfortunately, I think I’ll have to wait a few months to try these because my library arranges its storytime themes around letters of the alphabet. We won’t reach O and S until later in the year!

Verdict

With engaging illustrations and a great selection of parent tips, the Music Together Singalong Songbooks are a fun way to combine music and early literacy. One Little Owl and She Sells Sea Shells are great for sharing in any setting: one-on-one or group, sung by the reader or listened to on the recording, with families new to or familar with Music Together songs. While Hello, Everybody! is great for singing along either one-on-one or in a group, it lacks a recording for listening along, making it more challenging for non-Music Together families to use.

(All cover images copyright Music Together, LLC)
 
Barratt Miller is the Youth & Adult Services Librarian at the Crook County Library in Prineville, Oregon. She received her MSLIS from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2012. As a graduate reference assistant at the University of Illinois Library, she selected materials for the School Collection, the second largest collection of children’s literature in North America. She also reviews middle grade and young adult science fiction and fantasy novels for The Horn Book Guide.

Music Together and the Children’s Librarian: Part 2, by Barratt Miller

Kids select instruments for the playalong during a library storytime.

Kids select instruments for the playalong during a library storytime.

When I applied for professional development funding to attend a Music Together Teacher Training, I identified three things I expected to learn: classroom management and lesson planning skills, new songs and activities for my baby/toddler storytime, and how Music Together’s curriculum supported early literacy. In Part 1 of this post series, I reflected on my first goal for the training and how it turned out. Today I’ll tackle the other two.

2. I wanted to learn some new songs and activities, especially for my baby/toddler storytime.

What I Hoped to Learn:

I was really struggling to come up with appropriate activities for my baby/toddler storytime for kids age 0-3. I’d figured out what kinds of books worked with this age group (and that two was about their limit), but I’d been struggling with incorporating other activities into the storytime. Also, I repeated some of my activities, like “The Freeze” by Greg & Steve, every week. I needed some new ideas to freshen up my storytime!

What I Actually Learned:

So many songs! We learned songs from the Family Favorites CD, including different ways to teach the songs using movement, harmony, and rhythm. We spent one afternoon learning the songs and another afternoon studying different ways to teach them. My favorites are “Riding in the Car” and “One Little Owl.” (Music Together does place some limitations on using their music outside of a registered center, but we got the green light to use Family Favorites as long as we weren’t charging a fee or calling our classes Music Together classes.)

What I Took Back to My Library:

I haven’t been doing many storytimes this summer because of Summer Reading Program scheduling, but I’ve definitely incorporated some of my favorite activities into the storytimes I have been doing. Instead of handing out scarves for scarf activities, I toss the scarves into the air. The kids love reaching up to catch them as they float down. I’ve been trying to add a “playalong,” where I bring out musical instruments and let the kids (and parents) rock out while we listen to some music. It’s loud, but the kids love trying all the different instruments. I’ve also started singing the words “good bye” when all of the scarves/instruments go back in the box to make it easier for the kids to let go, and added a lullaby/snuggle time after our playalong to bring the energy level back down. I’ve tried using the “Hello Song” and the “Goodbye Song,” but my storytime parents are very shy singers and it hasn’t taken off yet.

3. I wanted to find out more about how Music Together’s curriculum supports early literacy and other forms of early learning.

What I Hoped to Learn:

I live in a rural community with lots of at-risk kids. The local preschools only have capacity for 14% of the children in the county, and one local kindergarten teacher reports that about two thirds of her students are woefully underprepared when they start school. Kindergarten readiness (especially early literacy!) is our main goal as a community right now, and I wanted more ideas about how to incorporate early learning techniques into my storytimes and in some local planning initiatives.

What I Actually Learned:

Like Every Child Ready to Read, Music Together emphasizes the importance of parent involvement in children’s learning. The Music Together techniques of encouraging parent participation during storytimes, providing take-home activities for families to do together, and sharing information about key early learning milestones with parents are all things children’s librarians can do to promote parent engagement and early learning. Plus, the similarity between the two programs helped me understand Every Child Ready to Read more thoroughly and gave me some great ideas about how to incorporate parent education into my storytimes.

What I Took Back to My Library:

While working on one of my Music Together homework assignments, I realized that the Music Together curriculum would be a great way to encourage parents with low literacy skills to become active participants in their child’s early learning process. One of my coworkers had shared a story about a young mother she met at an outreach event who became very defensive when asked if she read to her son. She didn’t read–ever–and she refused to even consider opening a picture book. For parents who aren’t confident readers, coming to a storytime or engaging in early literacy activities might be intimidating. A music program, however, might be more appealing and would provide many of the same early learning benefits as a storytime. It would be great to apply for a grant to fund the site license fee and the purchase of materials so that the library could offer the program to at-risk families for free. My library is not able to offer that kind of program right now, but it’s something we might consider pursuing in a few years.

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Obviously, I found the training useful for all the reasons I’d anticipated. I wanted to end these posts, however, by talking about something that I didn’t expect from the training. I got to spend three very long days with other early childhood educators, music therapists, and music educators from all over Oregon. We were all there because we were passionate about children, learning, and music. During breaks and over lunch, we all talked about how the training was helping us think about our work in new and different ways. We shared ideas and anecdotes about our experiences. It was great to really connect with people from different regions and different types of early childhood programs, and their shared insights were valuable in ways that I hadn’t anticipated.

I hope this information helped give you all a better picture of how a Music Together Teacher Training might benefit you as a children’s librarian! If you have any questions, please feel free to send me an e-mail at bmiller(at)crooklib(dot)org.

Barratt Miller is the Youth & Adult Services Librarian at the Crook County Library in Prineville, Oregon. She received her MSLIS from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2012. As a graduate reference assistant at the University of Illinois Library, she selected materials for the School Collection, the second largest collection of children’s literature in North America. She also reviews middle grade and young adult science fiction and fantasy novels for The Horn Book Guide.

Music Together and the Children’s Librarian: Part 1, by Barratt Miller

Last spring, I e-mailed Cen in response to a PUBYAC post in which she mentioned using Music Together techniques in her storytimes. I’d been researching Music Together after hearing about it from a fellow librarian, and I wanted an additional perspective on what a children’s librarian might gain by attending a Music Together Teacher Training. I’d received loads of information from Music Together representatives while researching, but none of it was library-specific. Luckily, Cen gave me some great feedback! I registered for a training in Portland and agreed to do a write-up for Little eLit to share a children’s librarian’s perspective on the Music Together Teacher Training.

Music Together Picture Post 1For those of you who haven’t heard of Music Together, it’s a research-based early childhood music education program that teaches children basic music competence (being able to sing an entire song on pitch and march to a steady beat) through a combination of classes (offered through a registered center, preschool, or music therapy program) and at-home family music activities. The program offers three-day Teacher Training workshops around the world. Teachers who pass the training are eligible to become registered Music Together teachers, although many people attend the training in order to improve their skills as music teachers or early childhood educators. You don’t have to be a trained singer or have a formal music background to teach Music Together, although those skills can help. All you need to be able to do is sing an entire song on pitch and keep a steady beat with your whole body.

I’d like to note that my summary is a very, very brief overview of the program and that I’m definitely not an expert! I recommend visiting the Music Together website for more information and contacting them if you have questions. Their staff is enthusiastic about the program and loves to talk about it with interested individuals. They’ll be happy to answer your questions, send you materials, and generally help you in every way they can. (If you decide that Music Together would be perfect for your library but would require grant funding, they’ll even help you find and apply for grants!)

When I applied for professional development funding to attend a Music Together Teacher Training, I identified three things I expected to learn: classroom management and lesson planning skills, new songs and activities for my baby/toddler storytime, and how Music Together’s curriculum supported early literacy. I thought it would be helpful to evaluate these three goals by discussing what I hoped to learn from the training, what I actually learned, and what I took back to my library. I’ll discuss the first goal today.

1. I wanted to improve my classroom management and lesson planning skills.

What I Hoped to Learn:

Unlike many of my colleagues, I don’t have a background in education and didn’t receive formal storytime training in grad school. After six months of weekly storytimes for a variety of mixed age groups (babies and toddlers, preschoolers, all ages) and help from more experienced colleagues, I still didn’t feel completely confident planning storytimes or leading the group in activities. I wanted to learn how to plan and lead engaging storytimes and to learn some tricks for dealing with difficult behavior.

What I Actually Learned:

We got to observe two different teachers teach three full Music Together sessions, which meant we got to see them keep twelve 0-5 year olds and their parents engaged for a 45-minute session. We looked for different elements in each session, taking note of how the teacher structured the session and interacted with the parents and kids. Music Together also uses a standard lesson plan for each of its sessions. All of the attendees had a chance to create a lesson plan that was critiqued by the instructor. In order to pass the training, each attendee had to teach a song and movement activity that was critiqued by the instructor and the other attendees. It was terrifying but so helpful, especially because I’d never had an opportunity for that kind of feedback before.

What I Took Back to My Library:

I love the lesson plan structure! Before, I had been mixing books and activities but without any real meaning in the order. Now, I plan to start with small activities and build up to progressively bigger, more engaging activities with focus activities in between. I’ve only done a couple of storytimes since my training, but I already have a better sense of what works well with a mixed-age group. I’m able to define my expectations for kids and parents more clearly. Getting parents to participate is still a struggle most days, but I definitely have better tools for getting them involved now. Best of all, I feel more confident!

Stay tuned for my reflections on my other two goals for my Music Together Teacher Training in an upcoming post!

Barratt Miller is the Youth & Adult Services Librarian at the Crook County Library in Prineville, Oregon. She received her MSLIS from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2012. As a graduate reference assistant at the University of Illinois Library, she selected materials for the School Collection, the second largest collection of children’s literature in North America. She also reviews middle grade and young adult science fiction and fantasy novels for The Horn Book Guide.