Diversify Your Storytime Music

Edit: A fantastic commenter pointed out the inaccuracy of the word “diverse” to describe these artists, and I’m working to correct that. You will see a mixture of terms used in this post as I take the time to better prepare for future posts in this series. The artists highlighted below are all from typically underrepresented backgrounds, including a mixture of Black, Latinx, Asian, and LGBTQIA+. I’ll better distinguish this on future updates to this post and blog series.

Are you using music from a diverse group of artists in storytime? I’ll ask another way: are the artists of all the songs you use in storytime white? There is a ton of conversation in the library world about the need to make sure your collections, displays, reader’s advisory, and programming books include underrepresented populations. Rudine Sims Bishop is often quoted, citing her wonderful Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors essay. That work is very important, and books are at the core of library services. But, we also highlight other forms of media in our programming, storytimes, and events. Think about your hired presenters and performers (virtual in 2020 and in-person in 2019). How many were white? Who are you supporting with your library’s limited funds? What about your storytime music playlist? How often do you share music by Black artists? Latinx artists? LGBTQIA+ artists?

Since my time on the ALSC Notable Children’s Recordings committee, I’ve been thinking a lot about children’s music, especially the music we use in storytime. Most of the artists I use are white. Jim Gill and Laurie Berkner are great, but there are some really fantastic Black, Latinx, and Asian artists that out there. There are artists from so many underrepresented groups–you just need to put in the time to look for them.

And it does take time. The music world is hard to break into at any level. Getting an agent isn’t easy or cheap, and the children’s music world is competitive. An artist might be able to self publish or perform locally, but that creates a very limited audience for a time consuming and costly pursuit. In some ways, the pandemic has opened up more opportunities for smaller presenters and performers to perform, virtually, on a national scale. But, the pandemic has also made it harder for those same smaller performers to survive. Money is tight everywhere, and many libraries who could never afford to bring a big name performer in person, might be able to afford them virtually. Libraries want to attract a large virtual audience, and that is easier with a name that caregivers will recognize. Caregivers recognize children’s musicians that they hear a lot–which they may mostly hear in storytime. So we are back to the beginning again: what musicians are you highlighting in storytime?

I am picky about my storytime music. I present for all ages now, but mostly babies and toddlers. I want music selections that are:

  • Short. Preferably 1-2 minutes, though I’m flexible with this (I can always stop the song myself where I need to).
  • Clear actions that are preferably repeated in a straightforward way. And actions that are appropriate for the age range. We can always adapt words and motions, but it is hard to spin a squirming one-year-old sitting on your lap.
  • Good pace. For me, I don’t want something too slow, but it also needs to be at a speed that is feasible for a toddler or preschooler to follow.

Your storytime music preferences might be very different. Some of my coworkers only use songs that have a rhythm that is way too slow for me, while others really want to theme their music to their storytime topic.

One more note: look at artists that you haven’t heard of. It’s great that you are highlighting Ella Jenkins and other artists that have been around for a few decades–but there are many new, modern artists creating amazing music right now that would appreciate your support.

I’ve been rambling on for months in other blog posts on how I have been working on a spreadsheet with artists from underrepresented populations and songs that particularly work for storytime. That full document isn’t ready yet, but I want to start to highlight diverse musicians regularly in preparation for that longer post. Many of these names may be familiar if you follow my weekly storytime outlines.

Children’s Musicians: A Starting List

All of these artists come from backgrounds that are typically underrepresented, particularly in storytime playlists: some are Black, some are Latinx, some are Asian, some identify as LGBTQIA+, and more. Some of these artists are my personal favorites while others are ones I plan to explore over the next few months. Who am I missing? Let me know in the comments!

Also, not a specific music group, but check out the Trans & Nonbinary Kids Mix by Ants on a Log and Friends.

Storytime Music: Favorite Songs

Again, I haven’t listened to every song by every artist listed above (yet–that is the plan by the end of the year), but if you are looking for some storytime music by artists from underrepresented populations to add to your storytime playlist *right now*, I’ve highlighted some of my current favorites below!

Jazzy Ash

Teddy Bear (preschool or school age)

Baby Loves Beignets (great with shakers)

Leap Frog (great with shakers – wish this didn’t gender with boys and girls)

Kymberly Stewart

I Am a Robot (toddlers, preschoolers)

Timmy the Turtle (Tiny Tim rhyme)

Down Down Up Up (all ages–could be a fun work out for caregivers with babies)

Nathalia

Animal Bop (toddlers, preschoolers)

Alina Celeste

Clap Hands (wish this wasn’t strictly mama and papa repeatedly, but the beat and actions are great)

Little Miss Ann

Shake & Sing (with shakers)

Aaron Nigel Smith

Everybody Loves to Dance (featuring Ziggy Marley) (all ages)

Itsy Bitsy Spider (featuring Zion Nigel Smith) (all ages)

Culture Queen

Super Shaker Song (with shakers! or scarves!) (all ages)

Blazer Fresh

Banana Banana Meatball (preschool or school age)

Jay Laga’aia

Wheels on the Bus (all ages)

Uncle Jumbo

Clap Clap Stomp Stomp (all ages)

2 Comments

  1. Children's Librarian says:

    This is a fantastic list of resources! I think it’s important not to use the word “diverse” to mean “non-white,” “foreign” or “minority.” “Diverse” describes a group, not an individual.

    • Thank you so much for this feedback! I’ve been struggling with this wording for a while — I started using non-white briefly when trying to make that more overall distinction, and I’ve read some issues with that term as well, which led me back to diverse. I’ll put in the research, though if you have any tips or suggestions for better terminology or places to learn more, I’d appreciate it. Perhaps I’d be in a better spot to divide by Black artists, Latinx artists, Asian artists, etc. Or the phrase “people of color” (since not everyone here is BIPOC either?). Or “underrepresented populations” which includes LGBTQIA+… you’ve got me thinking! This is a word I use a lot, so this is particularly helpful. I’ll put the time in for research before the next post. Thanks again for commenting and providing feedback!

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