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Let’s Get Classical

I have always loved classical music CDs for young children, and there’s nothing better than one that comes with a book, like this one. Listen to the Birds: An Introduction to Classical Music, ($16.95, The Secret Mountain Books, Ages 7-9) is unique in every way; I’ve never seen another book like it.

Each two-page spread of the book features a description of a different type of bird as it corresponds to one of the 20 glorious classical music selections on the CD. Children learn about the correlation between the sounds of natural birdsongs and the melodies of different classical masterpieces.

The book, written by concert pianist, Ana Gerhard and nicely illustrated by Cecilia Varela, doesn’t stop there. It also includes a listening guide for children to learn more about the instruments as well as birdsongs in each piece. There are also introductions to the composers, a wonderful glossary of musical terms and even a timeline of the composers from 1485 to the present. From Vivaldi to Tchaikovsky, from Handel to Mozart, all the greats are here to enjoy. The book and CD are of the highest quality, so it will certainly stand the test of time and can be used over and over again.

What’s so terrific about this book is that it is just as enlightening for parents as it is for children. Little ones who are too young to understand the details of a particular composer or even a species of bird, can certainly feel moved (and let’s face it hopefully feel sleepy, too). And even more importantly, books like these can inspire children to not only love music, but to also get interested in playing an instrument. As a parent of a 20-year-old pianist, I know just how much listening to classical music and talking about composers can shape a child’s future.

As for the relaxation factor, check out this photo of my husband, John and giant standard poodle, Darwin. I am playing the CD on my laptop as I write this, and you can see the effect it has on them!

Interested in more music knowledge for kids? Read my review of Verdi here.

– Reviewed by Debbie Glade


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A Hole in the Bottom of the Sea

Our family has been enjoying Barefoot Books for many years mostly because of their diversity, quality and beautiful illustrations. All you have to do is check out their website here and you’ll see what I mean. There are bilingual books, independent reader books, stories from around the world, games and more. It’s not hard to find yourself wanting everything. However today I’m reviewing a version of A Hole in the Bottom of the Sea (Barefoot Books, $16.99, hardcover with enhanced CD; $9.99, paperback with Enhanced CD, $6.99, paperback only, ages 3-6), adapted by Jessica Law with artwork by Jill McDonald and sung by The Flannery Brothers.


This classic cumulative song is perfect for print and features creatures such as a shark, an eel, a squid, a crab, a snail and a weed thus introducing nature’s food chain to youngsters in a fun, gentle way. And kids will enjoy pointing out the eel and all the others as they each try to hide from their respective predator.

“There’s an eel and a shark in the hole in the bottom of the sea.

He’s concealed from the shark in the hole in the bottom of the sea.

There’s a hole, there’s a hole, there’s a hole in the bottom of the sea!”

The book works on many levels in that it’s repetitive and sing-songy, there’s a page with numbers where the creatures are counted, all with easy to read text. McDonald’s engaging art is created using textured and painted papers that are then assembled digitally with a bold and vibrant outcome sure to please.

The helpful end pages contain loads of info on the blue holes found in the bottom of sea, the food chain, and the creatures who call the ocean their home. Plus there are words and music included to play with an instrument not to mention the CD containing video animation and audio singalong.

When you purchase a Barefoot Book you are helping the planet as they only use paper from sustainably managed forests.

“Playful, beautiful and created to last a lifetime, our products combine the best of the present with the best of the past to educate our children as the caretakers of tomorrow.” That’s a credo to admire in this day and age of over-packaged goods, and non-environmentally friendly products.

-Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Marvin’s Magical Music

The Man Who Knew His Way Around a Musical Note

Ronna Mandel reviews a new picture book written by the late Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Golden Globe and Tony-award winning composer Marvin Hamlisch.

Hamlisch, who passed away unexpectedly on August 6th, was a huge talent. I know because I had the great fortune to see him perform during his tenure as principal Pasadena Pops Orchestra conductor. Not only was he a consummate musician, but he was a highly entertaining figure with his self-deprecating humor and perfectly timed delivery.

When I received  Marvin Makes Music ($17.99, Dial, ages 6-8) written by Marvin Hamlisch and released posthumously earlier this month, I realized he left a most wonderful gift for young readers – his own story of how he felt and heard the music inside his head and all around. “In the park, other people watched the birds. Marvin listened to their songs.” If that isn’t the essence of Hamlisch, I don’t know what is?

Growing up in New York, Hamlisch was pushed by his musician father to practice his piano, though not in a mean way. Mr. Hamlisch Sr. came across as nurturing and proud. And while the young and extremely talented lad would have preferred playing more modern songs or his own compositions, his father urged him to train to the classic composers. Clearly Hamlisch’s parents knew they had a child prodigy in the family and it wasn’t long before his parents lined up an audition at Juilliard, the renowned Manhattan school for drama, dance and music.

The picture book, with fabulously expressive illustrations by Jim Madsen, centers around the day of the big audition and Hamlisch’s nervousness. His butterflies were compounded by an itchy suit his mother had purchased for the special occasion so he wore some comfy pajamas underneath!  That kind of personal recollection worked to make this story come alive for me. Plus knowing the fame that would follow for young Marvin (one of the youngest students to be accepted at Juilliard) also helped me want to read on.  A bonus for readers is the included CD recording of “The Music In My Mind,” an original song from Marvin Hamlisch and Rupert Holmes.

Parents, if you’ve got a child reluctant to practice piano, read them this story, play the CD and watch what happens!

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Emma Thompson Channels Beatrix Potter Beautifully

The Further Tale of Peter Rabbit  ($20, Frederick Warne, ages 5 and up) written by Emma Thompson and illustrated by Eleanor Taylor is reviewed by Ronna Mandel. 

110 years on and Beatrix Potter’s characters are still bringing smiles to children around the world, this child included! Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson has captured the voice, pace and perfect plotting of Potter’s mischievous rabbit in both the newly imagined picture book and the included CD recording. Taylor’s charming illustrations are an additional delight.

The Further Tale of Peter Rabbit takes Peter – ever in search of something interesting to occupy his time and against the cautions of Benjamin Bunny – back into the off-limits world known as Mr. McGregor’s garden. What ensues is both a surprise and an adventure, as Peter ends up nodding out in a picnic basket and finds himself in the back of the McGregor’s cart, a wee bit far from home; in Scotland to be precise.

Fortunately cousin Finlay McBurney chances upon the lost lad and, in safe surroundings and no time at all, Peter’s up to his shenanigans in a radical way. Without spoiling the plot, suffice it to say that a radish hollowed out by Peter in a fit of hunger plays an important role in a shot put-like competition that will leave readers reeling. Not only was this a totally satisfying read, but a fun one bound to become a bedtime favorite.

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Rooting for the Underdogs

Start Cheering Now Sports Fans!

Boys and girls alike will enjoy page after page of New York Times bestselling author Len Berman’s The Greatest Moments in Sports: Upsets and Underdogs ($19.99, Sourcebooks, ages 9-12), and maybe even identify with a few of the figures covered in this new book and audio CD. Berman begins by reflecting back on perhaps history’s oldest “Cinderella Story,” David vs. Goliath. Certainly nothing plays out better than when the unexpected happens. This kind of excitement is captured for kids by Berman’s retelling of well known and lesser known success stories. Readers will find themselves, as I did, rooting for athletes that they previously never even heard of including Greco-Roman wrestler Rulon Gardner.

At the Sydney Olympics in 2000, the Russian Bear Alexander Karelin was the Gold Medal favorite having never lost a major wrestling competition. Hailing from Wyoming, Rulon Gardner was the classic underdog. However, despite odds against him, Rulon remained determined as he faced the final with Karelin that he was going to get gold for the USA. If that meant breaking the Bear’s winning streak, so be it. Early on in the competition Rulon scored an unexpected point against the Bear, but then neither athlete scored the required three points to win so the game went into overtime. Within seconds to the match’s end, Karelin could not keep up with his competitor and conceded. From that day on Rulon became known as The Miracle on the Mat. Listen to that miraculous moment on the CD track.

There are so many other amazing stories recounted such as the Miracle on Ice when the longshots, U.S. Olympic hockey team, (which according to rules in 1980 could not consist of NHL players since they were professionals. Those rules have since changed.) came out of nowhere, made it to the finals and then beat the powerhouse Soviets 4-3  in what Berman describes as “one of the most famous play-by-plays calls ever made, as befits one of the greatest upsets in the history of sports.”

It’s dark horse stories like these that make The Greatest Moments in Sports: Upsets and Underdogs such an engrossing, gratifying read. I know it’s what kept me glued to my  TV during the London Olympics this summer and what will get me watching the World Series beginning October 24, 2012.  Gear up now by getting this book!

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Lisa Loeb Gets Zany and Disappointed by Pancakes

Lisa Loeb’s sing-along book has got Debbie Glade humming …

It’s impossible not to smile while reading singer/songwriter/actress Lisa Loeb’s Silly Sing-Along ($14.95, Sterling Children’s Books, ages 4 and up) and listening to the accompanying CD, featuring 10 songs. Though not brand new, the book is clever, original and just as silly as its title promises. Between the ultra thick hard covers you’ll find 24 pages of lyrics and cute illustrations by Ryan O’Rourke. Some of the tunes are familiar while others are original. Loeb performs all of the songs on the CD, many of which she wrote, and her voice is clear and animated.  Background vocals are performed by children, encouraging readers to sing along at home. You’ll love the way Loeb gives a background of each song in the book, sharing her childhood memories and silly tidbits. Kids will love reading while listening to the CD, and I promise parents will find the music soothing, rather than annoying, like some children’s music. What a fun book to bring along on a long family car ride or just to listen to at home or even at a birthday party. Oh, and you’ll get a real kick out of the lyrics for “The Disappointing Pancake.”

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