BETWEEN THE LINES
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LIFE

Between the lines: how illustrators use lyrics to inspire

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 March, 2014, 10:14am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 March, 2014, 10:14am

My husband and I recently spent some time listening to The Rolling Stones before attending their show in Macau. Our children did not come to the concert, but listening inspired us to expand their repertoire to songs beyond those about boys named Jack, girls named Mary, and farmyard animals.

I don't want to rely on YouTube music videos as the visual accompaniment to new songs, and I am grateful that the book industry agrees.

It's better to use picture books, as singing is a natural form of repeated reading which is highly effective for improving children's reading skills.

Like many young girls everywhere, they have been faithfully belting out Let it Go

In one study cited by Dr Timothy Rasinski, a professor of literacy education, children who were going to be repeating their grade level sang out written lyrics for 30 minutes, three times a week.

This programme continued for 12 weeks, and it yielded a year's worth of progress, meaning that they caught up to their peers.

My three-year-old has two favourites: Kadir Nelson's He's Got the Whole World in His Hands and Paul O. Zelinsky's Knick-Knack Paddywhack. Books like these are the result of award-winning illustrators envisioning and interpreting song lyrics, as well as the message therein.

A spiritual song, He's Got the Whole World in His Hands , the author of which is unknown, invokes a sense of community and togetherness. Both the tune and the lyrics are so upbeat they beg to be belted out and clapped en masse in church or in school.

Knick-Knack Paddywhack, a moving-parts book, is a great interpretation of a humorous song that I have been singing to my children since they were one month old.

I had never been able to conjure up my own images to the words of this song until I saw the book. I was never sure what it meant to be "playing knick-knack", or how the old man "came rolling home".

Zelinsky depicts a different way in which the old man rolled for each time the refrain is repeated. He is well known for The Wheels on the Bus, another sing-song masterpiece of paper engineering.

My six-year-old's favourite sing-song book is Over the Rainbow, illustrated by Eric Puybaret. It includes a CD of the song performed by Grammy award winner Judy Collins.

My daughter loves this rendition of the song, which was originally sung by Judy Garland in the classic film The Wizard of Oz. She always finds something new each time we flip through the pages as we sing, admiring the dream-like images.

We enjoy the illustrations so much that I've already put in a book order for Puybaret's Puff, the Magic Dragon.

My husband's favourite is Bob Dylan's Man Gave Names to All the Animals, illustrated by Jim Arnosky. The richly coloured scenes evoke the primeval world of this Eden-set song.

It includes a CD with the original recording. We never attempt the tune ourselves; we always listen to Bob Dylan's distinct voice as we "read" this book.

My chosen book is What a Wonderful World illustrated by Ashley Bryan, because it is one of my favourite songs. The bright rainbow-hued drawings of multicultural children putting on a puppet show pay homage to Louis Armstrong.

Satchmo's gentle and emotional recording of this song is considered one of the greatest jazz performances of all time.

Even though my daughters aren't quite ready for the Rolling Stones, at least I can proudly state that they've graduated from nursery rhymes to Oscar-winning songs.

Like many young girls everywhere, they have been faithfully belting out Let it Go, the theme song from the animated movie Frozen, at least half a dozen times a day.

Annie Ho is board chairwoman of Bring Me a Book Hong Kong, a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving children's literacy by reading aloud to them. Visit bringmeabook.org.hk