• Grace McKinney

Sing it with a Book: Our Favorite Singalong Picture Books

In a wild turn of events, both Gaby and I have found ourselves back in the classroom for this school year! As we have been preparing for the new year with so many changes and precautions to keep both ourselves and our children safe, we've also been scratching our heads to consider ways to build community among our children with all this red tape. "Circle" or gathering times for Primary children have always served as a precious opportunity for learning names, sharing stories, and learning songs together. And, thankfully, that can still happen—even from behind our masks and with a little more space between us.

It may be trickier for children to pick up the lyrics of new songs (or remember their favorites from so many months ago) if they're not able to read their teacher's lips hidden behind masks and face shields. Thankfully, many of our favorite songs have been translated into picture books that offer not only a visual aid for the children singing along but also a chance for burgeoning readers to connect the words we sing to those on the page. (And, if we're being honest, a welcome memory-jogging tool for the adult, too.)

Here, we have gathered some of our very favorite picture book translations of songs to sing in the classroom. Some might be old favorites of yours, too, but we hope that either the books listed here or the songs that inspire them will provide new and exciting opportunities to bring song into the lives of the children in your life!

Inch by Inch by David Mallett, illustrated by Ora Eitan

"Inch by inch, row by row, gotta make this garden grow..." This ol' earworm of a song translates beautifully into a picture book that follows a young, eager gardener as he sows and reaps the fruits of his gardening labor. The illustrations have whimsy and a little bit of nostalgic charm for parents and teachers sharing it with children for the first time, and the presence of a child gardener will undoubtedly pique the interest of the young gardeners who encounter it! It's especially rich for children who have worked in a garden of their own, whether at home or at school. Seeing familiar tools, flowers, and fruits will engage young ones not only in singing along but also getting back out to make their garden grow!

I Love the Mountains, illustrated by Haily Meyers

Just recently released (March 2020) in this picture book format, I Love the Mountains carries the reader through all the delights of the outdoors. The textured multimedia illustrations carry the reader through mountains, the rolling hills, and the daffodils mentioned in this summertime song as children of varying skin and hair colors romp through the countryside. Accompanied by musical notes floating through the air, the verses are divided nicely across each page turn to encourage the reader to join in the song with ease! This song has become a fast favorite of mine, and I was thrilled to see a book to accompany the first few times I would sing it with the children in my class. A little word to the wise for those new to this tune: one must choose a starting pitch for this song veeeeery carefully, unless you're willing to venture into voice-cracking territory with each verse's upward climb. (How appropriate for a mountain song!)

Over in the Meadow by John Langstaff, illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats

I actually did not know (or remember that I knew) this song until I heard a friend sing it with her Toddler classroom a few years ago, and I've been stuck ever since. Though the Keats illustrations are among my very favorites, there's another edition with illustrations by Feodor Rojankovsky that give me all the folk-art vibes I could ask for. Having a book handy for this song is particularly helpful since there are so many animals and unique rhymes to recall—I know I've been grateful to have both visual and textual support when I've shared this delightful tune with little ones!

He's Got the Whole World in His Hands, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

We've Got the Whole World in Our Hands illustrated by Rafael Lopez

Both Nelson's and Lopez's iterations of the familiar spiritual "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" are stunning additions to any book collections. Nelson's version follows a young Black boy as he reflects on the many things "in His hands," including everything from the rain falling on his bright yellow raincoat to the sisters and the brothers (of every shade and size) he's drawn in crayon. The text may not follow the typical repetition of the song's pattern, but they provide a perfect starting point for a collective singalong. Lopez's variation on the song places the world directly into children's hands, showing children from all over the world and celebrating the many wonderful things that they can hold as their own and can share with one another.

What a Wonderful World by George David Weiss and Bob Thiele, illustrated by Ashley Bryan

What's a singalong without some Louis Armstrong puppetry for good measure, I ask you? This edition may be a little harder to find if you're not looking on used book sites like Alibris and AbeBooks, but Bryan's illustrations frame the song as a puppet show to display all the things that make the world so wonderful. Never short on color or intricate details, this whimsical version of the classic song is a feast for the eyes. It's a slightly larger picture book, too, which makes it perfect for sharing with a large group!

This Pretty Planet by Tom Chapin and John Forster, illustrated by Lee White

The lyrics to Chapin and Forster's "This Pretty Planet" float over a dreamscape in which children discover the many beautiful places in our world. The fantastic nature of their exploration makes for a few wild illustrations—a giant record player! A bed hanging from a hot air balloon!—but their dreams at last return them to the familiar but wondrous real world. The lyrics offer a welcome reminder that even in the midst of a tumultuous time, we can look to the Earth for comfort: "You're a garden. You're a harbor. You're a holy place."

This Pretty Planet will be released in November 2020, so either preorder it from your local bookstore or snag it once the weather's gotten a little chillier wherever you may be!

Tell us, tell us! What are your favorite songs to sing in the classroom? And which picture book song translations did we miss?

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