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.

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