Author: Faubel, Carolyn

Great Books

Some of you may know that I have a food blog, which is why so much of my writing has to do with comestibles , but I also share a blog ( with my daughter Melinda in which we review children’s literature. I love everything about worthy children’s picture books and good youth literature; the exquisite drawings, the rough sketch-like pieces that nail the personality of the character, the stories that run a great theme through a fantastic adventure.

Sometimes we choose to read to our young kids (or have the older ones read to themselves) books that have a theme or message that we intend to get across to them, such as religious-based stories, potty-training tales, self-esteem raisers, and ones that show how kids learn to accept others who are different from them.

We of the CBA are musicians, or we love music. Let’s make sure we get their paws on some great books that have music as a central theme!

My two favorites are Mama Don’t Allow by Thatcher Hurd, and Abiyoyo, by Pete Seeger. Both of these were Reading Rainbow books, and, like almost all the other books I own, were picked up at a thrift store.

The first thing that catches your eye on Mama Don’t Allow is the deep color saturation of the illustrations; dark and rich blues, greens, and violets that define the swamp the characters live in. The first line of the book says it all. “Miles got a saxophone for his birthday.” Although his parents say, “How nice,” we can feel the premonition, and it comes true. He practices all the time, but his parents finally suggest, loudly, “Why don’t you PRACTICE OUTSIDE, DEAR!”

This part reminds me of when Melinda decided to learn violin, and then piano. It was loud, it was intrusive at times; she sawed the bow and pounded the keys as she worked off stress and moved toward proficiency. And I did have to send her outside a few times. But I just kept in mind how happy I was that she was learning music!

As Miles practices outside, he picks up some other budding musicians, and they cry out, “Let’s be a band!”

My son, Tristan, has accumulated some musical friends, and he recently told me that they had decided to be a band. A garage band! Something I have only heard about, but sounds fantastic. He’s been talking for a long time about learning the guitar, but now he has taken it seriously, and I am happy to recognize a real aptitude in him.

The rest of Swampville doesn’t appreciate their band, probably because they play so loud, so they are sent further down the swamp to play. And that is where they find their true fans, the sharp-toothed, long-tailed, yellow-eyed alligators. They are invited to play for the alligator ball. What a shindig! All the alligators are dressed in their finest as they board the Swamp Queen riverboat. Miles and the band play their hearts out. And what song do you think it is?

“Mama don’t allow no music playin’ ‘round here!
Now we don’t care what Mama don’t allow,
We’re gonna play that music anyhow!!”

The alligators really shake it loose, but come dinner time, what do you suppose they have in mind? Things look bad for the band, as the chefs approach with knives, forks, and a boiling pot. But the music comes to our fellows’ rescue, and in the end, when they come home, even Mama says, “Oh, how nice!”

When my kids were younger, I had to put together a birthday party for my 5-year old. We did “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” and finger paints. But I also handed out rhythm instruments and read this book to them. And every time in the book that the band played, we played our instruments. And we didn’t care how loud we were!

The other book I like, Abiyoyo, I didn’t own until the kids were too old for picture books. But we had checked it out of the library back then, so it was familiar. Abiyoyo is based on a South African Lullaby and Folk Story. I knew the story from when I was younger because my parents had a Pete Seeger record album that the it was on, and we played it a lot.

A little boy who plays the ukulele and his magician father are the main characters. All around town the boy strolls with his instrument, “Clink, clunk, clonk, clink, clunk!” The grown-ups are always saying, “Take that thing out of here!” His father has trouble being accepted also, but in a less benign way. He is always making things disappear. A prankster, he does things like make chairs disappear from under people after a hard day’s work.

Finally the townspeople have had enough, and they drive the two out of town.

On the record, the next part always got the shivers going up my spine. Until now, Pete has a cheerful tone, and his banjo plinks and plunks. But then he sings in a foreboding way, “Now in this town they used to tell stories. They used to tell about a giant called Abiyoyo…” And then, “One day, one day, the sun rose blood red over the hill.” And you knew what was coming. Abiyoyo. The whole town flees for their lives.

But the magician knows he can make Abiyoyo disappear if he can just make him lie down. His son begins to play the ukulele, and Abiyoyo experiences the pleasure that anyone feels when someone writes and sings a song just about them, and begins to joyfully dance, until he gets tired and lies down.

My mother likes to write songs about people she knows, and it is fun to watch them beam when she sings it to them. Have you ever done that, or had a song written about you?

The illustrations in Abiyoyo are beautiful paintings. And a second look shows something special—the people are all different nationalities, giving a view of one of the themes of this book.

If you read to young children, I really encourage you to seek these books out for them. And if you have a favorite music-themed kid’s book, I’d love to hear about it!
Posted:  1/22/2011

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