SINGING A STORY – The Magic of Musical Books, Part I

The following information is adapted from posts on In Harmony – A music education blog from Heritage Music Press and member Brigid Finucane’s post on the wonderful Prek and K Sharing blog. 


Hello, everyone. Ms. Brigid here, from Merit School of Music  in Chicago, IL. Thank you for joining me.

An App to Love


Before we get to the main topic of this post, I’d like to share a recently discovered and brilliant app: Freeze Dance.  For a mere $.99, you can select any song in your iTunes library and add pauses – essentially doing away with remotes or lurking next to the CD player when your kiddos are freeze dancing. Users can select Auto Freeze or create customized intervals.  The app is highlighted in Amy M. Burn’s  FREE e-book, Help! I am an elementary music teacher with one or more iPads! 

Full disclosure: This book was was discovered via the 15 Of The Best Music Technology in Education Books web article by Australian, Katie Wardrobe. Her music-tech-education site, Midnight Music, is a treasure trove of great ideas and information. You’ll be happy you took a look!

 Why Sing a Book?


One of my passions is music and literacy – and a favorite way to share this with students and families is by presenting musical books at the end of class time. When a book is sung, it goes beyond the simple and everyday – it’s elevated into a new and special experience.   A musical book engages, invites positive communal participation, opens teaching opportunities and provides non-stressful (group) pronunciation practice, especially important for the many families and students I work with whose first language is not English.

Music/songs share many elements with the books read in early childhood classrooms. Music/songs/books

  • use symbolic notation,
  • are rhythmic and sequential (there are beginnings, middles, ends)
  • provide vocabulary enrichment,
  • teach tenses and plurals,
  • are rich in poetic language,
  • allow visualization, reflection and
  • encourage good pronunciation.

Music is also reductive – it gets to the heart of things very quickly.

Shadow Chasers by Elly MacKay. Thank you, S. Hassler!

How to Begin?

Depending on the season and concepts I want to reinforce, Books are sung two or three times, and their subject matter reflects the season or concepts highlighted during class. Most books employ audience participation through echoing the text line by line or a chorus. Some books are even vehicles to encourage solo singing.

  1. Find a song that has been turned into a book, and sing it!

The best place to do this is a library. You’ll be amazed what you can find in the children’s section! But wait, there’s more. To add a richer dimension, consider pairing books with the recordings that inspired them, e.g.,What a Wonderful World, by George David Weiss & Bob Thiele, Ashley Bryan (illus). The singer that made this song famous was Louis Armstrong.


This brightly illustrated book is filled with positive images of the world and different cultures and is a favorite of those I teach. The story goes that this song was written specifically for Armstrong in the late 1960’s to quell civil unrest, since he was a beloved civil and cultural ambassador. This may or may not be true- but it’s interesting to ponder! After introducing Armstrong and the book, I turn the pages while playing a recording of the song. We don’t stop there. We immediately sing it again – but this without accompaniment.

Another option: After reading the book, use the app, Watchlater,* or another video downloader, to download the YouTube video of Armstrong directly to your iPad or computer. My families love watching this great man sing. He doesn’t play his famous trumpet on this recording, but it’s right there in his hand! *At this writing, Watchlater is still operable, but is in a transition period with the iTunes, due to the recent IOS updates.

post6There are many more wonderful options to choose from. Here are songs/books that work nicely, all with iconic singers attached:

Little White Duck. YouTubes to use: Burl Ives.  The stringed instruments are fantastic.

Danny Kaye’s version is included as a comparative. You’ll either love or hate the background singers!

A, You’re Adorable. Perry Como’s 1949 hit is about how adorable his sweetheart is. For  post7me,  this song/book works far better as song an adult sings to a child.

YouTubes to use: Dean Martin’s recording OR Sesame Street.


My Favorite Things

YouTubes to use: Julie Andrews’ recording.

The book’s rich illustrations call for slowly turned pages, so this recording may be for listening purposes only! Film clip.

2. Referencing Melodies. post9

There are a number of deservedly popular books that reference a well know melody and add or “piggyback” their words onto it. These books wouldn’t works as well, or at all, if they didn’t have a very specific song and melody as their foundation. Let’s take a look at two:

I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More! by Karen Beaumont. David Catrow, illus.

Melody: “It Aint’ Gonna Rain No More.”  This is a great book for colors, patterns, rhyming, body parts….and slightly subversive fun! The illustrations are exceptional (though the little boy is a bit creepy – in an art-is-purely-subjective kind of way).

NOTE: Syllabication is not completely accurate.  Be sure to practice before presenting, and make necessary adjustment.

post10 The Aunts Go Marching by Maurie J. Manning.

Melody: “The Ants Go Marching.” “Dressed in raincoats and carrying umbrellas, a platoon of aunts march through the rainy city streets led by a little girl with a drum in this cumulative rhyme.” (cover). Clever illustrations of rapid numeric (aunt) expansion highlight this funny take on this classic childhood song.

Other examples: The Seals on the Bus by Lenny Hort & G. B. Karas (Melody: Wheels on the Bus) and Cows in the Kitchen by A. Anderson (Melody: “Skip to My Lou”).




  1. Thanks for the mention Brigid!
    – Katie

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