Saturday, June 30, 2007

Interview: Rob Reid

“I truly believe I’ve listened to more children’s musical recordings than anyone in the history of mankind.” - Children’s librarian, teacher, senior lecturer, presenter & humorist, Robert Reid.

Two of his books have just been simultaneously published by the American Library Association: Children’s Jukebox,2nd edition, is an updated version of Reid’s first book. It is a subject index of children’s recorded music and, as a reference tool, is aimed at libraries and schools. Something Musical Happened at the Library incorporates music with children’s literature with practical suggestions and is aimed for librarians, teachers, and parents.


1) Did you really listen to over 500 recordings? How? Do you ever sleep?
I actually listened to about 650 children's recordings. Because of book length restrictions, I couldn't include all 650. Children's Jukebox contains listings for 547 children's recordings.

How did I listen to them all? I was on the Newbery Award Committee the year before I worked on this project and I found myself reading every single free minute of the day - between eating breakfast and brushing my teeth, between pulling up in the driveway after work and kissing my wife, and so on. OK, I'm exaggerating, but I truly had no social life that year. Nor the following year when I spent every free minute listening intently to children's music. My family was very patient and understanding.

I state in the Introduction to Children's Jukebox that I'm confident I have listened to more children's music than anyone in the history of humankind.

2) During your research did you get feedback from kids or friends & family about the music?
Definitely. I was constantly telling friends and family members of all ages to give me feedback on a variety of recordings. A lot of the recordings were kid-tested.

3) What type of criteria do you follow in making decisions about what gets printed?

I got a lot of feedback from folks when the first edition of Children's Jukebox came out. They were having trouble purchasing the various recordings because no one source handles all of the recordings I had listed. For this edition, I made sure that each recording could be ordered online, either through a jobber or the artist's personal website. The recordings also had to be available in CD format. There were a few recordings I wanted to list in the books but didn't because the artists either took mail-only orders or the older recordings hadn't been converted to CDs.

Otherwise, I was looking for solid recording production, topics that kids could relate to, pleasant vocals/instrumentation. I was aware of several major artists and found other artists from reviewing recordings for School Library Journal and Booklist, and from awards, such as Parents Choice Awards and the American Library Association's Notable Recordings listings to name a few.

4) Why is children's music important for libraries & literacy?

I don't have any stats or studies to share, but I intuitively see how kids react to music and books together through my years as a children's librarian and children's performer. Many librarians and classroom teachers overlook children's musical recordings as a primary resource for great ideas, so I wanted to spread the word. For example, when I heard a children's song while indexing it, I often thought of a specific picture book to go along with it. I have a section of these pairings in Something Musical Happened at the Library.

Another practical function of using music comes from the fact that many teachers use cumulative pattern stories as a reading readiness activity. I listed several cumulative songs that perform a similar function.

5) Are there certain artists or music trends that stand out for you personally?

It's nice to see a richness of songs about diversity out there. I have subject listings of songs sung in different languages and also songs related to different geographic regions around the world. These subject headings are certainly more extensive than in the first edition of Children's Jukebox. I also see several artists writing intelligent songs that aren't dumbed down in content and production quality. Adults and children can enjoy them together.

Out of the 547 recordings I indexed for Children's Jukebox, I listed 46 recordings as a recommended Core Collection (since few individuals or organizations can afford to buy all 547 recordings). In the book, I state Eric Nagler's Improvise with Eric Nagler is my all-time favorite children's recording. I must admit Billy Jonas's What Kind of Cat Are You is sneaking up as #1. I also have a listing of my favorite children's original songs (as opposed to traditional songs like "Old MacDonald" - it's not fair to compare the two categories). My all-time favorite children's song is "Walk a Mile" written by Jan Nigro for his group Vitamin L.

BUT - picking favorite artists/recordings is almost like picking your favorite child. There are SO many great artists out there.
For example - you YOSI are so much fun to listen to and I'm glad I found you for the book projects. Your song "Goodbye" is featured in Something Musical Happened at the Library !

6) I understand that you do some entertaining at schools & libraries. What kind of performance do you do?

I teach full-time at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire - mostly Children's Literature and Literature for Adolescents. When I can work around my class schedules, I like to visit schools and libraries. I bill myself as a Children's Humorist and tell stories, poetry and wordplay, and musical activities. I'm known in some circles as Rappin' Rob because of my library/reading raps.

7) Will you be making any appearances where educators, librarians, etc. can hear & meet you?

In addition to kid shows, I travel all over the United States and Canada to conduct workshops for teachers and librarians on the topic of Making Literature Come Alive for Children and I pull material from my 8 books that I've published with ALA Editions and Upstart Books plus my magazine columns in LibrarySparks and Book Links. LibrarySparks has upcoming tours in Texas and New Jersey this summer. I will be one of three authors on this "Road Show." Check it out at Otherwise, I'm usually hired by organizations to speak at conferences or to conduct workshops.

8) How can someone get copies of these titles?

Children's Jukebox and Something Musical Happened at the Library are both available from ALA Editions at the ALA Bookstore:

Thanks Rob!

Have a fun tour this summer.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Interview: Joe McDermott

"The Maestro of Imagination" Joe McDermott rocks on his latest disc Everybody Plays Air Guitar, where he actually plays a REAL guitar...or so it's rumored. We got to talkin' (via e-mail) & Joe shared some insights on Zombies, Trains & Hollywood

1) Does EVERYBODY play air guitar? I seem to recall my grandma playing air-balalaika. Does that count?

Was your grandmother one of the Skomorokhs ? It only counts if she was a card-carrying Skomorokh. And no, not everyone plays air guitar. I actually tried many variations - air oboe, air euphonium and air accordion, but air guitar just seemed to resonate more in our focus groups.

2) I think the vocals really shine when you sing a cappella . How many parts did you sing on "Working on the railroad"?

Thanks Yosi. I'm not really sure how many parts I sang. I usually do a pretty standard barber shop quartet to start with (standard in everything but actually knowing how to write one) and then fill in with funny stuff and sound FX vocals wherever possible. It took a really long time. I don't consider myself a great singer by any stretch, so I do lots of takes until I have the ones I can live with. After all my work was finished I had a few gospel singers come in and REALLY sing. To me that's what makes the track. I really did have a job on the railroad once though-and loved it. My dad worked for the railroad his whole life, so it's really in my blood. I grew up around a lot of trains.

3) I understand you're a father of 4(?)...(like me) do you make time to write, record, & perform?

Actually, I'm the father of three boys. I have morning insomnia and get up really early and work. fortunately, it's my full-time job so I basically have to do it and have to make the time for it. On days that I perform, I'm often finished at 11:00 or so which leaves the rest of the day to write and record. And also, I'm a bit of a workaholic.

4) What are your kids fave tunes? (on your CD's)

I think the general consensus around our house is that "Come To Hawaii" from "Great Big World" is one of our favorite songs and recordings. It's between that and "Great Big World" from the same album. But really, as far as the kids are concerned, their favorite songs of all are the songs from a Super Nintendo game that I did the soundtrack for in the 90s. It's called "Zombies Ate My Neighbors." It's apparently become sort of a cult following thing. I still get emails from nerds all over the world telling me how much they like it. Weird.

5) Where do you get your song ideas? Especially "Baby Kangaroo."

I have no idea really-especially that song. I found this cool ping-pong ball sound FX and looped it and played it in my car. The song just kind of popped into my head one day. Funny though-it was the last cut on that album that I worked on and I thought it might be too obnoxious-yes, even for a children's recording. I almost left it off.

6) I know you are based in Texas. Will folks be able to catch you live on the East or West coasts?

I'll be playing at Borders in San Francisco July 7th, Steamboat Springs Colorado July 17th and Washington DC at Jamin Java July 28th. for specifics, our web site is

7) What's next on the drawing board? A cd? DVD? Full-feature film?

Yes, probably a full-feature Hollywood blockbuster-type film featuring all of today's hottest stars. That's what I'm thinking for now anyway. (Do you have any Hollywood connections Yosi?) Actually, I'm gearing up for playing more shows with symphony orchestras. I've done a few so far and love it. I'm also doing music for a cool company called Team Baby Entertainment. I really need to do a DVD and probably will in the next few years. In the meantime, I'm starting to write for the next album.

Thanks, Joe.
I'll have Al Pacino give you a ring.
We'll do lunch.

Get your air guitars on & check out:

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Interview: Jarrett's Punk Farm + more!

Author/illustrator, Jarrett J. Krosoczka , is a talented young fella with five bios! I kid you not. Some say he's an international super spy. Others say he's found sitcom fame. My kids & I love his books, especially Punk Farm.
Who is Jarrett & what is he up to? He was kind enough to spare a momment from his untiring schedule to give the following interview:

1) Are you a Farmer or a Punk? Or are you a Punk Farmer?

Hmmm. Well I've always been a fan of punk music and the attitude behind it, but I wouldn't really consider myself fully punk. I've lived in a city all of my life, so I've never been a farmer. But that's sort of changing as my soon-to-be wife and I are moving to Northampton, MA. Now I drive by a farm with cows and horses, but by the time I get to downtown I see parents with mohawks and kids with individual style hanging around. So I guess now I officially live in a town that is farm/punkish.

2) Did you always want to be an author/illustrator of children's books? How did that happen?

In a sense I did. I always wanted to tell stories with pictures. When I was a kid, I made my own little books and made my own comics. By the time I got to high school, I was all about comics and animation. I took classes at the Worcester Art Museum and there, we published our own underground comics and animated little shorts on 8 MM cameras. By the time I got to college and especially by my sophomore year, my attention focused on making picture books. Which in the end, really isn't too different from anything I had done all of my life - telling the story visually.

3) What was the inspiration for Punk Farm?

I had been trying to crack a story I had going for a few years. It started out about a kid who grew up to be a rock star, then it was a kid who daydreamed on being a rock star... But I was never satisfied where the story was going. Then, I had been volunteering at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp and my campers pretended to be rock stars when I played music at the start of the day. Eventually, they took on the personas of rock stars for the duration of the session, living out their daily lives as a famous rock band. I returned home to realize that this story I had going on kept falling short because it was about one kid and a group would offer far more entertaining possibilities. Shortly after that, I was leafing through old sketches and paintings and came across another unrealized story - one about a pig and a chicken. And then it all happened. I had an "A-HA!" moment and my rock star book became a book about a band, not an individual and farm animals, not humans.

4) Is there a "Punk Farm" song on a CD or available on iTunes?

There is a song and it is available as a free download from

5) My 5 y.o. son enjoyed My Buddy, Slug. He's a fan of bugs & critters. I love the messages of tolerance, friendship, making amends & forgiveness. Is there a story behind this story?

Not specifically. When I wrote the book, I didn't have any one personal situation in mind. I knew that I had been in plenty of situations where I was Slug and plenty where I was Alex. But when I look back at my childhood and my life, the acts of forgiveness and making amends have both played major roles. I was raised by my grandparents and for many years I held animosity towards my mother, which I was eventually able to move past. She has always been a big part of my life and when I was a kid, she always encouraged me to draw. She's an incredibly gifted artist and as a kid, I always looked up to her for that. Slug was always one of my mother's favorite books and even after the early rejections in my literary career, she constantly encouraged me to get the book published.

6) What's your favorite color? I guess

My favorite color is red. But I do love the combination of dark green and orange...

7) How can folks meet you?

Well, I'm out on the road a lot, reading and signing at book festivals and book store events. The best way to keep tabs would be to check in to my events page -

8) Is there another book or new project in the works?

Punk Farm on Tour will be out on October 9, 2007. The band packs up a van and travels the country. I finished the art for that book last November (Yes, it takes that long for a picture book to be released!) and I'm really proud of this book. I really pushed myself here. After that, I am currently working on a bunch of new books, but next to be published will be Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute. It will be the first graphic novel in a series about a lunch lady who fights crime, knows karate, and uses her unassuming lunch lady tools as spy equipment.

Thanks, Jarrett.
We're looking forward to Punk Farm on Tour.
Check out Jarrett's books, sketches, games, etc. at: