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Cultural Expression Through Music March 20, 2018


Contributed by Elizabeth Draper, Cantata Learning Music Director


Music is a huge component of cultural expression and cultural identity. People and music have been intertwined since the dawn of human evolution. There is evidence that suggests even neanderthals played early forms of musical instruments such as flutes—not just drums and sticks as one might assume. Music serves many functions and needs. It provides various forms of communication, religious and spiritual worship, artistic expression, and community celebration.



When creating music for Cantata Learning books, we strive to represent many different genres, feels, and sounds that stem from a variety of different cultures. And it is important that our producers and recording artists are knowledgeable and authentic in the sound they are creating. I work with a team of extremely talented producers and engineers, who each have their own specialties, as well as a network of recording artists who each have their own strengths and musical and cultural backgrounds.


If I want a song to have a Hip Hop feel, I know I will reach out to a producer who is involved in that culture and community. If I want something with a Central American rhythm, I will reach out to someone with that background. You get the idea.


Even though basically nothing exists within an isolated bubble, there is still a wormhole of knowledge and history associated with any genre or style of music. By making sure the producers we work with have spent time educating and surrounding themselves within the context of the genre they are composing, I am able to ensure a more authentic sound to each Cantata song.


Exposure to a variety of musical styles and genres is an important element of any child’s education and upbringing. Cantata’s songs can be an excellent way to introduce cultural and geographical topics for discussion.



A song with flavors of North and West African influences such as The Swift Gazelle Can Run Quite Well: Grassland Animals, can introduce a discussion about the people who live in various grassland regions all over the globe. An Americana song such as Earth Day features a fiddle player whose style was heavily influenced by Appalachian musical traditions. Music that evolved in Appalachia stemmed from a combination of West African and European (primarily Irish) music evolving together. The song Earth’s Record Breakers has a strong Afro-Caribbean influence. This is a broad term used for musical styles in the Caribbean originating from West and Central African people who were brought to the Caribbean as slaves. More specifically, there are elements of Garifuna music in this song which can lead to many different topics of cultural and geographical discussion.


Music is constantly evolving, and these days, probably more than ever before. Living in the communication age, it’s almost impossible to live within complete isolation without external influence. This became very apparent to me when visiting a remote Karen village in northwestern Thailand. I met a young boy there who was playing a Western guitar and singing a Pink Floyd song in English although he barely spoke English.


You need not even leave your seat to hear a Norwegian band playing Hawaiian music on African/Asian marimbas. Although it pales in comparison to travel and real life experiences, the sounds from around the whole world are just a few clicks away.


With a book in hand, it doesn’t take much to discover more about the musical and cultural roots of a song. Start by Googling the genre. Read articles about key musicians, instruments, and songs. Watch YouTube videos. Talk about the history. Visit the library and check out more books on the topics you discovered.



I always strive to be relevant and honest when creating new music for Cantata. I believe this musical integrity will serve as a window to a variety of different sounds and cultural influence for students who explore our books. It’s my hope that in this way, Cantata Learning will not only support kids’ interest in reading, but toward further musical and cultural exploration as well.

Connecting To Voices Around The World Through Books and Music February 27, 2018


contributed by Shannon McClintock Miller


Music and Books Bring Us Together

A few weeks ago, my family and I traveled to Chennai, India, for the ECIS Librarian Conference at the American International School of Chennai. There were librarians from over 50 countries at the conference. It was wonderful being able to connect and learn with everyone. These new friendships brought so much meaning to our trip as we learned about different places around the world.

As part of our learning experience, we visited the American International School of Chennai where my friend Jeremy Willette (@libraryjet) is the Director of Library Service at the American International School of Chennai.



When Hagan and I walked into the elementary library, we were greeted by tables labeled with different languages from around the world including Russian, Hindi, Arabic, German, and many more. On the top of each table were books the librarians had brought from around the world. They were getting ready for the International Book Swap!


We enjoyed walking around the tables with the other international librarians, looking at books books we had never seen as well as ones that looked the same as books at home except for the different languages they were in. The visiting librarians were all very happy to participate and take books from other places back to their libraries.


Cantata Learning at AISC

As we were walking around the library, we realized the library had an entire section of Cantata Learning! I was so excited to see all of these books all the way across the world in this special place in India. I was now even more excited to leave behind copies of the Library Skills series that I wrote with Cantata Learning and Emily Arrow. I just know they are going to love singing as they learn how to find a book and the other helpful lessons in this series!



Jeremy and I found a chance to talk about the beautiful and diverse collection within his library, including the Cantata Learning stories and songs. He shared how they serve students from over 30 countries. Wow!


I also learned the largest languages there in terms of what students speak are Korean, Japanese, and French. The library has books in over 50 languages plus the actual language section. Their language section makes up 11% of the collection but 24.9% of total check-outs!


When I asked him specifically about his Cantata Learning collection, he said:

Students love our Cantata books and they get great circulation!

The fact that students can access the music of the books in multiple formats is a huge plus. They can use the QR code, visit the website, or play the CD.

The delightful melodies and attractive illustrations are a big hit with our younger readers. The sound-to-text possibilities are also very useful for our young students who are learning to read, both for native English and non-native English speakers alike.


Windows and Mirrors

Later that day, I started to think about how wonderful it was for all of the children who use AISC to have access to Cantata Learning. With over 30 countries represented, the music, stories and illustrations in these titles are such a wonderful way to support unity among this community. 


Cantata Learning books allow children see themselves in the pages as they read and sing along. With so many different types of children and places represented throughout the books, everyone can feel and be a part of the singing, reading, and conversations that takes place.  After all, music is the universal language.



When Jeremy shared the picture above with me, I just had to know the story behind this little girl’s smile. He said, “That’s what happens when a kid comes into your office, sees your tie, and wants a picture with you because you are the same.” I think I have been smiling ever since he shared that sweet little story.  


Coming Together for Read Across America

Remember this week, as we celebrate Read Across Americathat libraries, music, books, and Cantata Learning can bring us together in so many ways! They bring friendship, love, and a way for us to connect voices around the world through books and music.  



We all have the power to bring a voice to each child that passes through our doors. This week, and every week, let’s make sure every one is heard.


As you are celebrating the diversity within your library and community, please share how your students feel heard by using the hashtags #ReadYourWorld, #OwnVoice, and #LoudLibraries!

5 Ways to Boost Usage of Your Digital Collection February 21, 2018


Contributed by Shannon McClintock Miller


A digital collection is an essential part of today’s school library. Not only does it support our future ready students by ensuring equitable digital access to information and resources, it also empowers student voice, inquiry, and creativity through a variety of platforms and tools.  


As a Future Ready Librarian, I worked very hard to develop my school’s digital collection over the years. It grew into a beautiful, diverse, and engaging collection of eBooks, databases like PebbleGo, digital tools and apps, and other online resources. And I was always looking for ways to promote it among the school community.


When I first introduced the digital collection to our community, I thought to myself, This is going to be awesome! The students will love all of the digital resources, the teachers will use them every day in their classrooms, and families will be thrilled to have access at home and on the go to such wonderful content for their children.  


Well, that wasn’t the case. Not even close actually. Even though I told everyone about our amazing digital resources, there was hardly anyone using them anywhere. In fact, a lot of people would say, Oh, I always forget we have those… or That’s right! Tell me again how we get there?


So, I took a few steps back and started over by doing a lot of things to boost the digital collection’s usage!  



I kicked it off by hosting a big day of celebrating our new digital collection. We decorated the library, put up posters, and prepared activities to help patrons get to know this part of our collection. We invited teachers, administrators, and students and their families.


Guess what?  It worked!  We saw our digital collection usage increase at school and at home. Teachers were using it more through collaboration and instruction. Families were sharing sweet stories of learning together at home. And every day I would have students run up to me to share the neat things they were finding, researching, learning, questioning, and creating from our digital collection.  


I knew what was happening at this point. According to the American Library Association’s Digital Literacy Task Force, “Digital literacy is the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.” We were empowering our students with the digital literacy skills they needed and giving them a place to develop these skills.


One part of our digital collection that really stood out for me in bringing these digital literacy skills and practices into play were the Cantata Learning stories and songs. I wanted to make sure we focused on them to meet of the needs of our youngest learners, along with their teachers and families.  


Let me share 5 ways we did this so you can give your digital collection a boost with Cantata Learning stories and songs too!  


1. Cantata Learning stories and songs can be accessed quickly and easily via the QR codes included with each book.  

The QR codes to the stories and songs can be accessed anywhere you have a device. You can stream the music online and download it to your device. This makes the books perfect for reading, listening, learning, and singing on the go.


Always be sure to point out the QR codes that takes readers to the music. The codes can be found on the back cover and within the front pages of each book.


You can add the QR code to a poster, a bookmark, a postcard, or a table topper for your students to scan.  Kids love taking things like a postcard or business card home… it makes them feel very grown up.  


2. There are several Symbaloo webmixes full of the Cantata Learning stories and songs.  



You can have your students go to each song and story as I described above, or you can direct them to the Symbaloo webmixes I have created for each season of Cantata Learning. These can be shared with students as a link on your homepage, through a QR code, in Google Classroom, and more. And at the bottom of each webmix, there are tiles to all of the other seasons, too.


This is a terrific way to access all of the Cantata Learning stories and songs in one place. And, it’s easy for little ones to navigate for themselves, which helps to build their digital literacy confidence!


3. Add the Cantata Learning YouTube videos to your blog, website, Google Classroom, or to an online newsletter tool like Smore.  



You will find all of the books uploaded into series- and season-based playlists on the Cantata Learning YouTube channel.  All of the videos can be embedded or added as a link, so this is a great way to bring your audience to the stories and songs online through videos.  


Your students can even follow along with the print book as they listen to the YouTube video.  They will be singing, reading, and dancing along in no time!


4. Point students to the Cantata Learning eBooks through Capstone Interactive Booklists.



One of my favorite spots to display Cantata Learning books online is in Capstone Interactive. Within CI, you can create a Booklist which can include any Cantata Learning eBook that you want. For example, say you and the art teacher are collaborating on an science and art unit focusing on color. You could create a student focused Booklist such as “Check Out the Cantata Learning Stories and Songs about COLORS Here!” featuring the all-new Sing Your Colors series.



You could even pull in PebbleGo from Capstone and have students research the articles about Colors in PebbleGo Science. By pairing these two resources up for this unit, you would be able to cover lots of information in a meaningful, musical, and creative way. The art teacher will love this collaboration too, and will remember these digital resources for future projects and reference needs in the art room.  


5. Add your digital collection to your online catalog so it is easy for students and teachers to access.

Your digital vendor will provide MARC records to load into your online catalog, such as Destiny. By doing this and letting everyone know they are there, you will give them access to search for and find the Cantata Learning stories and songs within the library catalog. There is even a hyperlink in each title’s record that will take you directly to the song.  



The eBook or print record could even be added to a Collection by Destiny, along with links to the songs, YouTube videos, and other Cantata Learning resources, such as their free lesson plans. I created this Collection for the Spring 2018 Cantata Learning season that you can use and share with your community right now.


As you can see, Cantata Learning is a great product with the flexibility to engage even our youngest learners and to help encourage their digital literacy skills. I’ve shared just a few of the ways that we can give our digital collections for young readers a boost and bring all they have to offer into our homes and learning communities. What are some other ideas you have come up with to do this within your community and collection?

Behind the Music: How Music Enhances the Text February 3, 2018

Contributed by Elizabeth Draper, Cantata Learning Music Director


Music can be used in many ways to enhance text. As Music Director for Cantata Learning, I have had great pleasure of deciding how best to set books to music. Some questions I ask myself when considering how a song should sound include:

• What genre would best fit this text?
• What mood am I trying to portray?
• Are there particular textures or instruments that seem most fitting?
• What tempo would best fit to allow an early reader to comprehend these words and content?


Different types of sounds, timbres, and tonality evoke different emotions, associations, and memories or sense of nostalgia. Setting text to a song is often used as a handy mnemonic device. Studies show that many learners comprehend better when listening to a story versus reading a story. That’s because our brains create imagery while listening.


When we experience text through an auditory medium we are stimulating the left hemisphere of our brains and we are engaged in semantic processing. Listening to music can release the neurotransmitter dopamine at peak moments. This is the same chemical that is released when people are in love, eat a favorite food, or experience other positive stimuli.



Knowing that music and sound hold more than meets the eyes (ears), it is important to compose wisely. For example, when working on the Fire Safety series it was vital to make sure that all of the text, although serious and potentially scary, was set to music that was fun and lighthearted.


It was also important for the key safety rules, which generally comprised the choruses, were extremely catchy and memorable. This would allow for the safety rules to be easily recalled and engrained if ever in a time-sensitive fire emergency. As another example, the text in the song Loops from the Code It! series is set to hip hop “loops.” Setting text about Sequences and other coding concepts to music sure makes them more enjoyable and comprehensive.



While I have great respect for Foley artists, I strive to not have too many sound effects in our songs. I think the appeal wears off after a few listens and quite honestly can become rather annoying. There are still ways to do it with some restraint though.


In the song Busy, Busy Bees Clean Up!, the sound of the kazoo (err…”bees”…) really makes the text come alive. And in the timeless favorite Down By the Station, the drummer plays a fun and folky “train beat” creating whole imagery to text.


Another example is the book Elephants Line Up, where the text is set to a gentle march, the percussion like elephants, and the text is sung in tempo to motions described in the song. And in the book Johnny Works One Hammer, a brassy percussion hit accompanies the text to enhance the counting throughout the book. Besides just reading and counting with the illustrations, this allows for the learner to listen and engage in counting along in tempo to the music, to really hammer in (yes, pun intended) the lesson.



In a nutshell, the work I do brings the book to life, similar to the way that the illustrations help bring the story to life. Without the many considerations I take into account for each series and each book within those series, the music element of Cantata Learning books would not succeed with students.


To know why a Loud Library is a good library is to understand the value of music in—and on—our lives. This is why we say: “Read it. Sing it. Learn it!” I’m proud of the tracks we put together season over season, and I love hearing the positive feedback coming from educators and students who have experienced the transformation of bringing music into their libraries!

Celebrate Diversity with Cantata Learning January 22, 2018

Contributed by Shannon McClintock Miller

There are several special days throughout the year that bring so much happiness and love to our libraries, classrooms, communities and homes. One of my favorites to kick off the new year is Multicultural Children’s Book Day, which is on January 27. 2018.  



The mission of Multicultural Children’s Book Day is to not only raise awareness for the kids’ books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these books into classrooms and libraries too.

This year, Multicultural Children’s Book Day happens to fall on the same week we celebrate another one of my favorites, LitWorld’s World Read Aloud Day, and I couldn’t be more excited!  



LitWorld shares, World Read Aloud Day brings together people all around the globe to read aloud together and share stories to advocate for literacy as a human right that belongs to all people.


These two events fit together perfectly in lifting up diversity in children’s books and globally connecting the voices of all children through the books and stories that we share with them.  


As I plan for my week of honoring these events through connecting and reading aloud with several libraries and classrooms around the world, I sit by my bookshelves surrounded by the beautiful new season of Cantata Learning titles and I think about how much I love how these stories and songs celebrate diversity in such a special way.  



Cantata Learning is ideal to use for Multicultural Children’s Book Day and World Read Aloud Day as they combine engaging stories, beautiful illustrations, and fun songs to captivate learners of all ages with such a wonderful variety of content featuring a variety of sizes, shapes, colors, and sounds throughout the books.


One of the most important aspects of Cantata Learning is how they invite children into their books and open up conversations around different types of people. Every child feels represented and seen as they read and sing along.


I see this as I pull the newest set of Holidays in Rhythm and Rhyme books from the shelf. This celebration of diversity shines through, especially in the Cinco De Mayo title.  



Children can read, listen and sing about this important Mexican-American holiday through the words and lyrics and the incredible illustrations by Geraldine Rodríguez. Geraldine is from Mexico and gives the illustrations an authentic representation. The food, music, singing, dancing, and people are brought to life through this story and song.  


As I was reading Cinco De Mayo, I loved finding a young girl with bright red hair. I can tell you that being that girl, the one with the bright red hair, was not always easy growing up. I would have loved to be represented in a book like this because it would have opened up a conversation for me and my classmates.  



Picture books are a great way for children to feel safe about asking questions such as, Why does she have red hair?, Why is his skin brown?, Why are my eyes brown and his are blue?, Why does that person use a wheelchair? What is that person’s facial expressions telling me? and so many more.



As I get ready to connect with friends in Texas, Iowa, Colorado, Hong Kong, and India for these two special days, these stories and songs will be part of them as I read and share voices from children throughout the world.  


By sharing these stories and their own with others around the world, we are giving our children future ready skills of embracing ways they want to change the world through their voices and authentic experiences. I can’t wait to see their faces, hear their thoughts, engage in conversation with them, and lift up their creativity throughout the week of January 27!



And as you get ready, please share what you are reading and singing, by using the hashtags #ReadYourWorld, #OwnVoice, #LoudLibraries, and #WorldReadAloudDay so we can add to our libraries and communities too.  


Spend Multicultural Children’s Book Day and World Read Aloud Day with Cantata Learning as we raise awareness for kids books that celebrate diversity!