If children's music is on your gift list this year, record stores and family magazines are two of the best places for ideas. The Internet is also useful. (Try http://altavista.digital.com/ and type in "children's music.") Whatever your resource, there is no dearth of music for young people.
The Muppets bring cheer to the season in A Sesame Street Christmas (Sony Wonder). Herry monster has trouble with the words to the classics - he prefers "crashing" to "dashing" through the snow - until his friends set him straight. The gang's version of "The 12 Days of Christmas" will appeal to little ones with its silly lyrics including "six rubber duckies, five argyle socks ... and one delicious cook-ie."
You won't hear a single bell jingle on actress Jessica Harper's Not a Traditional Christmas (Alacazam!). Instead, these refreshing, gospel-flavored songs are infused with reggae beats and Harper's smooth voice and harmonies. She has taken traditional songs, many of which feature the Bethlehem babe, and put them to original arrangements suitable for the entire family. Among the musical treats are "Children, Go Where I Send Thee," "Mary Had a Baby," and "Little Jack Horner."
More recognizable are the tunes from popular TV specials found on Rudolph, Frosty and Friends Favorite Christmas Songs (Sony Wonder). Many famous folks lent their talents to these ditties, including Burl Ives on "Rudolph," Fred Astaire's "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," and the touching nativity tribute "The Little Drummer Boy," performed by the Vienna Boys Choir.
Folk and country
Music for Little People adds to its kid-friendly collections with A Child's Celebration of Folk Music. This delightful listen benefits from talented artists and a good mix of songs, including "Run Molly Run," by Sweet Honey In the Rock, "Garden Song," by David Mallett, and "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain," by Pete Seeger.
Folk singer John McCutcheon's family album Wintersongs (Rounder) is so good adults won't mind listening to it over and over. These pleasing songs, from the rock-like "New Boots" and zippy "Hot Chocolate" (a real gem) to the softer title track "Waiting for Snow," are a fine way to bring the charms of the coldest season to young ears.
Setting Disney songs to country music is not an idea that readily leaps to mind. But The Best of Country Sing the Best of Disney is an unexpectedly good collection. Alison Krauss, Tanya Tucker, and others introduce children to country sounds through songs from movies like "The Lion King" and "The Little Mermaid."
Children of a few months or a few years can drift off to the lovely songs on Blanket Full of Dreams (Rounder Kids). Written and performed by award-winners Marcy Marxer and Cathy Fink, these songs feature gentle vocals, guitar and banjo accompaniment, and lyrics that convey a sense of warmth and love. Among the fine selections are "Sleep Like a Little Pea" (Sleep like a little pea/ Growing in the garden) and "Love Makes a Family."
Another quiet-time option is Daddy's Lullabies (Re-Bop). These traditional and original songs are all sung by male musicians and express, as collaborators David and Diana Levine intended, the nurturing abilities of fathers. Helping children to wind down are "Savin' Your Sleepies," penned by the Levines, and "Hush Little Baby."
Blues and rock
Candy stores, the ABCs, and fishing are topics of the funky, fun songs on Big Blues (Music for Little People). "Pick a Bale o' Cotton," by Sonny Terry, is a classic performed with flare, and what primer would be complete without something from blues royalty B.B. King: "The Rainy Day Blues."
Kids meet the King in Blue Suede Sneakers (Lightyear Entertainment, New York), a boppy collection of Elvis hits performed by country, rock, and children's artists. "Ready Teddy," by rocker Brian Setzer, is for high-energy moments; Shawn Colvin's delicate vocals on "Love Me Tender" slow things down. Shari Lewis's "Hound Dog" is not quite as successful, but it fits with the album's lighthearted nature.
Schoolhouse Rock! (Kid Rhino) is a four-CD collection of educational songs from cartoon shorts that have been entertaining kids since the 1970s. Multiplication, grammar, science, and history are all covered. Highlights include "Conjunction Junction" and "Interplanet Janet."
Longtime children's artist Tom Chapin takes school-age kids Around the World and Back Again (Sony Wonder) with his latest offering. "The Wonderful World of Yes" cleverly teaches children how to say "Yes" in different languages. And "What Is a Didjeridoo?" covers world instruments with aplomb. Dances and foods from different cultures are also in this mix, as is one song sung in both English and Italian.
Puppeteers and musicians Tom Knight and Elizabeth McMahon know their audience well. On Peanut Butter and Jelly's Greatest Hits (Tom Knight, Willseyville, N.Y.), folksy music is combined with fanciful lyrics on food, trains, and made-up stories. These songs are perfect for singing along - from "Peanut Butter and Jelly" about making the famous sandwich, to "The Dirty Laundry Boogie." A winner for preschool and school-age kids alike.
In On the Wings of a Dragonfly (R&T Grosvenor Publishing, Newport, R.I.) Terry Grosvenor again sets poetry to music.
Her arrangements and singing are light and upbeat, although some selections shine more than others. Included are "Hiawatha" from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and "The Gingerbread Man."
Of the 15 selections on the soundtrack for Disney's live-action movie 101 Dalmatians, only the theme song for the dastardly Cruella De Vil has words to it.
The sing-a-long version is a bit better for kids, with songs from the original 1961 animated movie. But few of the ditties (which include words like "remuneration") are as appealing as more recent Disney fare.