Sing Along Picture Books–Part I: Illustrated children’s songs

Hanging out all day with a toddler or seven you find yourself doing two things endlessly: singing silly songs and reading picture books.  It is great when you can do both at the same time! Here are a few of our favorite kid songs turned picture book:

knick knack paddywhack

Knick Knack Paddywhack  has two great things going for it: a familiar if somewhat nonsensical children’s book and fantastic illustrations.  Paul O.  Zelinsky’s beautiful artwork has earned him a Caldecott Medal for his other works, and that award-winning quality is evident in the bright colors and highly detailed pictures in Knick Knack Paddywhack. What makes this book truly amazing, though are the moving parts.  Toddlers always love books with flaps to lift and tabs to pull, but this book is in a class of its own. The final page with all the Old Men playing in an orchestra made of numbers while the little boy claps and taps his foot will enchant parents as well as children.


Mary Ann Hoberman has a knack for extending well-known children’s rhymes into full length picture books. Of all her books, Miss Mary Mack is our favorite. It includes the musical notation for the song, which is simple enough to play on a child’s xylophone. The book tells the story of a little girl who befriends an elephant who in turn chooses to live in her back yard rather than return to the zoo. There is always a lot going on in the illustrations which encourages conversation with the little ones in your life. My son particularly likes the dogs chasing the zookeeper away.


Marla Frazee is one of my favorite illustrators. Her drawings of people are realistic and, in other books, depict a wide spectrum of human experience.  She illustrates the classic lullaby Hush, Little Baby through one frontier family, sacrificing the diversity that characterizes so much of her work.  Since the song really does focus on one baby and the things parents will do to appease it, this singular focus makes sense. Frazee introduces a jealous but ultimately loving older sister whose spunk and repentance we can’t help but love.

happy and you know it

The next two book s are both part of the barefoot books sing along collection. The collection as a whole features mostly well-known kids songs with illustrations of diverse children on every spread.  If you’re happy and you know it, adapted by Anna McQuinn and illustrated by Sophie Fatus takes the familiar motions of hand clapping and feet stomping and adds some new ones that your toddler will love.  Sophie Fatus develops an international cast of children you can get to know on the back page of the book where each child’s name and culture of origin is spelled out. The book also includes “hello” in a number of different languages.  The depictions of the children tend toward the traditional or iconic (Japanese girl in a kimono, Dutch girl in front of a windmill, Irish boy in an Aran sweater), in a way that sometimes makes me worry a little about stereotyping.  However, I think it is difficult to represent 36 cultures through 36 children without relying on some form of cultural symbolism. The fact that the Western children are also shown in “traditional” clothing and landscapes helps to diffuse some of the West/rest Modern/traditional dichotomies that often form in mulch-cultural discourses.  Also, Fatus includes both Mandarin and Cantonese Chinese children, two girls from India–one who speaks Punjabi and one who speaks Hindi, and three children from indigenous cultures of North America.  This can help counteract notions that native people belong to the past, or that diversity is unique to “immigrant” nations like the USA and Canada.

animal boogie

Debbie Harter’s Animal Boogie is also part of the Barefoot Books sing along collection. The song is not one that we had heard before, but it is catchy and who doesn’t like to imitate animals when dancing around with a toddler? This book has a much smaller cast than If You’re Happy And You Know It, and the children are not identified with any particular culture.  I bought this book because the girl who sings about the bird is in a wheelchair, and it is really hard to find children’s books that include people with disabilities particularly if disability is not the focus of the book. While I think it is important for children to read stories that focus specifically on different aspects of the human experience, I also think it is important for everyone to be included in “mainstream” books.  Unfortunately, the illustrations also use skirt to signify girl–apparently even if you are going to be wiggling in the jungle with a snake, if you are a girl, you don’t get to wear pants. While If Your Happy and You Know It comes with a sing along CD, Animal Boogie comes with a cd-rom with an animated version of the book. There is no way to just listen to the song without the animation playing. Since I firmly believe in no screen time before two, and the only CD player I have is my computer, this means I have to start the song and then quickly tab to a different window to keep my toddler from staring bug-eyed at the moving images on the screen.