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5 Ways Music Can Increase Student Engagement November 27, 2017


By Shannon McClintock Miller


The more we sing together, together, together.
The more we sing together, the happier we’ll be.


I loved singing The More We Get Together when I was a little girl. I remember singing it at school, in the car, at home, and as we walked down the road to my grandma’s house. Then when I became a mom, I sang it to my three children. And when I became a teacher librarian, we sang it in our library too.  


As a mom and a teacher, I always thought we should add… The more we sing together, the more engaged we will be!


This is the magic that we see when music is part of our collections woven throughout our libraries, classrooms, communities, and homes.


By bringing music to our libraries, collections, and students, we can promote literacy skills, deepen learning, and increase student engagement in so many ways. In fact, music can be a vital element in the development of children’s literacy and emotional skills, especially in the younger years.  


Let’s look at 5 ways music can help to increase student engagement.


1. In the article “Learning Literacy Through Music,” Kelsey Tarbert states, “One area that a literacy program should emphasize is the development of auditory processes, and these are also stressed in a music program. Phoneme awareness, discrimination between similar auditory elements, speech signals, auditory memory and more. These auditory skills are an integral part of students’ literacy development, and they are all reinforced or enhanced within a music class.


As children begin to read and learn new things, music will help them learn and retain the information by acquiring and practicing these essential auditory skills. The lyrics and music set the stage for listening, learning, and a whole lot of meaningful fun along the way.  



Take a look at the Read, Sing, Learn: Homophones series from Cantata Learning.  This is such an important concept and one that music will help bring to life for our youngest learners.  


Listen very carefully. What do you hear?
Some little words can fool your ear!
Speak very carefully. What did you say?
Some little words you might not mean that way.


This series celebrates words that look and sound the same but have two different meanings.  Can’t you just picture how fun it will be for our students as they sing and clap to these familiar words in a brand new way?


2. As children are introduced to new materials, their vocabularies expand. When this information is put into musical context with rhythm and rhymes, children’s memories will retain the information.  Not only will they be learning how music is like poetry with these elements, but when paired with a catchy melody they will be learning so many new things in an effective and engaging way too.  



The Library Skills series from Cantata Learning is the perfect set for bringing important library skills to our students. There are new vocabulary words to learn such as fiction and nonfiction. Look how Fiction and Nonfiction can help them with these words and the meaning.  


Nonfiction means a book is true.
It’s filled with facts for you.
It might have dates and other stats:
cool things you never knew.


Fiction means it’s make-believe.
These books are meant for fun.
They entertain or tell a joke, a story, or a pun!


One suggestion is to use the ebook on a SMART Board or big screen with an overhead projector as students are checking out books. As they hear and sing about fiction and nonfiction, they will use and retain this information. By pairing this information with a catchy melody, they will always remember what fiction and nonfiction means.


3. When we use music to teach our students new skills and information at school, we are also arming them with words and tunes to carry home with them too.  I always loved it when my own children came home singing a song they learned at school. I remember my daughter Brianna singing a song as she memorized about the states and capitals and Hagan singing a little tune about nouns and verbs over and over on his way to bed.



Using a book such as Manners in the Library, will equip them with the skills they need for visiting the library at school, but will also be helpful as they visit public libraries with their families too.  


Collaborate, create and share.
Show the library that you care.
When we use good manners, it’s a safe place to be.
Explore the space. Let your mind be free.


With a quick scan of the QR code on the back of any Cantata Learning book, this special connection for children will carry through as they visit libraries everywhere forever.


4. Everywhere we go we hear and find music.  It is a universal language and one that embraces us from birth. As a social experience, music can bring comfort to children and reduce stress. While participating in musical experiences through singing, playing, and moving, they will gain confidence as they interact and work together to produce something beautiful and unique.  


With this sense of heightened sense of confidence and joy of learning, music can increase student engagement across the board in all subjects. Think about using it to inspire them in other aspects of the arts, such as drawing.  



Perhaps a child doesn’t feel confident about drawing and creating. By using the Sing and Draw series that focus on drawing skills and letter formation through lyrics and music, it will give students the confidence they need to not only sing with their classmates, but the directions will help them develop the skills they need to succeed at creating something with their hands too.   


We’re on an alphabet safari,
drawing the animals that we see.
We’re on an alphabet safari.

O is for Owl, hooting, “Hoo, hoo!”
Start by drawing the letter O.
For the ears, add two triangles,
Add a large one below.


Creativity and music work together in such an unique way and by bringing literacy into this partnership, we are giving our students such a terrific learning and creative experience.


5. Music helps children stay focused on the important topics that we are teaching them. It also helps us draw them in when perhaps we want them to refocus them too. We can use music to redirect students and get them excited about what they learning and reading.  


One topic that is very important to teach all of our students in digital citizenship. We want to make sure we keep their attention so they understand the importance and safety involved.  



With Staying Safe Online from the Library Skills series, we can do just that! The lyrics and music, along with the thought-provoking, colorful illustrations, adds a lot of interest to the topic as they sing…


Your name, your age, or where you live
is not info that you should give.
Keep special dates, and passwords too,
as secrets that are just for you.


As you can see, music will turn anything into a rich learning experience. It will add interest and life to your library, classroom and all of the learning, reading, creating, and moving going on around you and your students.  


And one that will bring great happiness and wonderful noise to your library, classroom, and outside of the four walls of your building too.


Water All Around Me November 13, 2017


Contributed by Sara Infante, Illustrator


Cantata Learning was the first client that I have met through the representation of Bright Agency. I was thrilled with the opportunity to collaborate with a publisher based on a place so far away from home and working for a new public was a challenge that I was very happy to meet and overcome.


I was sought out as a potential illustrator for the Water All Around Us series due to a piece from my portfolio that had a marked graphic voice. You can see this style across the books – it is simple and straightforward and uses the non-printed white surface of the page as a pivotal color within the chosen palette. Although achieved by an overall digital technique it is inspired by screen printing.



I began this project in the way that I begin every book: by making a storyboard. It is an essential step to my work process and I love everything about it, from the endless notes (in English and Portuguese, it gets all mixed up and ends up kind of crazy!) to the funny little characters. It always amazes me to see how such tiny drawings can contain so many ideas and details.



When I’m happy with the direction the storyboard is taking I move to print-size sketches. That is the time when I really focus on composition and questions like: Where should I place this object in order to get maximum dramatic effect? How can I stretch this character’s legs in order to make the reader feel that he is running with exertion?


This time during the sketch-making phase I also had in mind one other thing: the musical aspect of the project (something that was new to me since I had never illustrated an audio book before!). I was told that the music style was inspired on Bluegrass sounds and instruments. Since this specific music is foreign to me and my own roots, I wanted to really dive into it and treat this inspiration with great respect. I started to listen a lot to bluegrass songs while I was working on the books and tried to imprint a sense of folk nostalgia to the images by developing spontaneous scenes characterized by family relationships and easiness.



After the sketches’ approval I moved on to the final illustrations. The majority of the painting work was digital with the exception of some details which were previously hand-drawn with soft pencils and then colored on digital medium. What most stands out regarding the painting is the limited yet colorful palette that was used – you can only find four colors throughout the four books. The chromatic chord begins with a cerulean blue in reference to the big hero of these series and is followed by a strong vermilion that makes us think of children’s energy and creativity. To balance these two bright colors with light and shadow we have the natural white tone of the paper and a dark brown hue.



It was a great joy to receive a copy of these four books. The nature of the publishing world is such that it only allows the illustrator to see the finished product with the images he created many months after the illustration process took place – after so much time it is impossible for me to look at my own work and don’t see many things that I would do differently and hopefully better nowadays. Nevertheless these books are filled with pictures that bring me much pride.


I would like to finish by thanking Cantata Learning for this opportunity and share that these books hold a very special place in my heart given that their execution coincided with the premature birth and early months of life of my first child (that baby was cradled many times at the sound of bluegrass songs, I can assure you!). A special thank you to two gentleman: my agent James Burns at Bright who got me this lovely project and Tim Palin who was a valuable art director always happy to answer any question that I might had and always ready to help me improve my illustration work.

Celebrating Global Maker Day October 23, 2017

contributed by Shannon McClintock Miller


With Global Maker Day happening TOMORROW, I wanted to share some ideas for ways to celebrate this special day with music and stories by focusing on the new Cantata Learning Sing and Draw  series, featuring the talents of author Blake Hoena and musician Emily Arrow. The series addresses the process of drawing through simple steps that are easy for young readers to replicate. Each shape, from aliens to animals, is created by starting with a basic letter, number, or shape!



According to the Cantata Learning website, “budding artists and musicians will love this series that brings a makerspace favorite to life! Students will get a chance to use their imaginations and celebrate each others’ ideas.”


Doesn’t that sound like fun?!


Of course it does! So let’s take a look at 5 ideas for bringing music, stories, and loads of creativity and fun to your library and classroom on Global Maker Day.



1. Start out your day by reading and singing any of the four books. The titles include Alphabet Safari: A Song about Drawing with Letters, Circles and Crescents: A Song about Drawing with Shapes, Monster Party: A Song about Drawing with Numbers, and Rectangles and Triangles: A Song about Drawing with Shapes.


As they are listening, reading, and singing, have students draw and paint what they are seeing and learning from the books with a variety of art materials. To make this a collaborative class project, students could all gather around a giant piece of craft paper and draw together as they are reading and singing. This could become a giant mural of circles, animals, letters, monsters, princesses, numbers, and more—for all of the students to contribute to and celebrate each others’ creativity.


2. Next, provide creative building materials such as pipe cleaners. Ss they are listening to the stories and singing along, encourage students to create create animals, monsters, and more using letters and shapes. They can use their drawings they created while listening to the books as their guides.


3. Now, take things digital. You can have the students turn their drawings into 3D models within seconds using the MakerBot PrintShop app, which is free from MakerBot. This is a fun, easy, and free way to create and 3D print anything that you draw.


If you don’t have a 3D printer, have the students use play dough or modeling clay to create their 3D model.


4. Students will gather up the models they created for a final project. . . a mini stop motion production using the drawings, wall murals, and 3D models they’ve already created. They can use the Lego Stop Motion Studio, Green Screen by Do Ink, iMovie, or another movie making app.


5. One last thing before we show off our projects to the world for Global Maker Day. How about if we create a new song or even a music video, like the one Emily Arrow did for the book, to go along with our production?



Each title includes not only the main music track you’ve already listened to, but it also includes an instrumental version. Your students could use this track to create their own lyrics for their little stop motion movie or video. They could even create their own instruments using paper recycled goods, string, buttons, marbles, and so on, and record their own version of the song.  The ideas for taking inspiration from these books and creating new works is quite endless!



When the drawings, paintings, sculpting, printing, movies, and recordings come together, your students will have something unique and wonderful to share with others.  


Also, Cantata Learning provides a FREE lesson plan to accompany this series, available for download on their site. With the series focusing on drawing, this would be a great collaborative lesson between classroom, library, and art.



Wouldn’t that be fun to share with others on YouTube Live or on Twitter through pictures on the things they have learned?


You can visit Global Maker Day for all of the information and details for the day.  


What will you do for Global Maker Day?  I can’t wait to find out! Please share using the #LoudLibraries and #cantatalearning hashtags. We would love to hear how you are using Cantata Learning stories and songs. And of course, use #GlobalMakerDay to celebrate along with everyone participating!

Recapping the SLJ Leadership Summit 2017 October 16, 2017

by Patricia Stockland, Publisher at Cantata Learning


A number of you may have had the opportunity to attend an SLJ Leadership Summit at some point. This month, Cantata Learning had its first chance to actively participate in the event. And what an event it was: inspiring, engaging, thought-provoking, and—hopefully—action-invoking.



On an individual level, this was not my first time at the event. But once again it worked its magic in the way that a small, intensive workshop does when well executed. Like many in attendance and many who participated remotely through social media, we left reinvigorated by our mission to make learning and reading fun, engaging, inclusive, and important.


Yes, important. The Summit’s theme this year was “Confronting Our Literacy Crisis.” Literacy is important to all of us—as a community, as a society, as a strong and functioning humanity. Yet, often when we talk amongst our industry selves about literacy, whether it be librarian to librarian, teacher to teacher, publisher to publisher, or anywhere across that mix, we’re talking perfunctorily: topics, fluency, reading levels. We’re talking about literacy as the “thing” rather than the spirit and connectivity of what it truly means to be literate—and why that literacy matters.



True literacy means so much more than being able to read. It can and should mean wanting to read, thinking about what’s been read, participating in a larger conversation around the thoughts that reading provokes—and so much more. A literate society, with critical thinking skills, research skills, analytical skills, is a civil society. It is at the heart of who we strive to be as a community. A literate society is equipped to solve problems, address issues, and build bright futures.


Collectively as an industry, we have a lot of work to do. (The other blessing and curse of immersing yourself in an SLJ Summit can be the excitement and overwhelm in all we can do afterward.) Libraries need our advocacy; librarians needs our support; kids need these skills, both the perfunctory and the inspired. At Cantata, we’re rolling up our sleeves (and cranking up some music). Let’s do this.

Behind the Scenes: Adding Art to a Picture Book October 11, 2017

contributed by Tim Palin, Art Director


I’m a lucky duck. For the past few years, I’ve been art directing and designing dozens and dozens of picture books for Cantata Learning. While the editorial team creates and retells fantastic stories for young readers and the music group creates incredible audio worlds to accompany them, I have the pleasure of bringing images to the pages by working with artists near and far. Very near, actually. (Sometimes, I illustrate books for the team as well.)



The first step in the art creation for a Cantata Learning book is. . . find out what the books are going to be! I start by reviewing the list for the upcoming season with the editorial team to find out what the stories are and what we think we want the season to “look like.” I might ask questions like: Should this be light-hearted and cute? Or are we touching on more scientific themes and you see this as more non-fiction realistic? I see this story having very dense, detail-heavy artwork; do you agree? Do you envision the characters being kids or animals with human qualities? (By the way, there’s nothing cuter than a puppy and a bunny having a picnic.) Sometimes, as the manuscript is taking shape, the editors might start to have a particular art style in mind, or have a reference in mind. It’s important for us to have this conversation early on to make sure we head down this path from the same starting point.



Next, I put together a wish list of artists that I think can make the stories come alive. I look for artists that would be a good match for the manuscript which is being written at the time. We take quite a few factors into account here. For example: Do they mainly draw animals or people? Do they have a more playful style or a more realistic style? Does their work have a European look and feel for this retelling of Hansel and Gretel? Can they capture the adorable silliness of baby pandas climbing the ropes in gym glass?



The editorial team and I then review these artists and make a first pass at creating a roster of illustrators for the season. Here’s a sample of an artist’s presentation I might show to the team. This is a way to see, at a glance, not only the artists that I’m recommending for the book, but also a few key words that we have in mind when matching an artist to a story.


This is the sheet (below) that I used to propose Flavia Sorrentino (represented by Bright Agency) for Diwali. By this time, we’d agreed as a team that the art must be cute and colorful with lots of variety (in shapes, textures, and tone). Additionally, we knew that we wanted the art style to be as uniquely beautiful as the Diwali holiday itself. We wanted something unexpected. Flavia’s art fit that bill perfectly!



Cantata Learning works with a combination of independent artists and artists represented by agents. The next step is reach out to them to make sure everyone is on board! Sometimes, we have to go back to the drawing board if an illustrator is busy. This is a big fingers crossed moment! We’ve been blessed to have some pretty incredible talent from around the globe join the fun. In this case, I’m delighted to say that Flavia was a quick “yes”! Hooray!


Once the illustrator roster for the season is set. . . the real fun begins! I send the manuscript and art notes out to them and wait. This is also the hardest part. . . the waiting, that is. But I keep myself busy putting some more touches on the layouts where I’ll eventually place the art.



Sketches are in! That’s right, my job means that every once in a while I arrive at my desk bright and early, and my inbox is full of art from all over the world. . . Italy, Japan, Australia—so many amazing places!


Once the sketches are sorted, the art, editorial, and music teams review them. Sometimes, they’re perfect right out of the gate. Sometimes they need a little love. . . a few tweaks here and there. For example, check out the pages below. When we received the sketches for Flavia’s Diwali book, we absolutely loved this spread. However, in a last minute move, we decided to remove the little girl drawing a rangoli on the wall and move her creation into the background. These beautiful rangolis are normally drawn on the ground, rather than on a wall. For many of our books, the art notes that go back to the illustrators reach beyond an asthetic preference. Like in this case, it was so important to be culturally accurate.



Check this next one out (below). The woman in the foreground holding the platter is wearing a sari. The consultant that Cantata Learning worked with to ensure that all the details are correct pointed out that, in this sketch, it appears that the veil is separate from the sari. In reality, the veil is part of the full-length garment. This was corrected in the color art in the following weeks. It might seem like a small detail that one could overlook, but these notes are so important. This change was a crucial one to make. It worked out beautifully.



Once the book is full of beautiful, original art. . . We need a cover!!! Sometimes, we make the cover out of a page of the inside of the book. In the case of Diwali, that’s exactly what I did. Flavia’s page 15 made a lovely front cover!



Since we’re in a Holiday state of mind. . . and Halloween right around the corner. . . here’s a fun peek at Halloween! For this book we were looking for something current and cool. We grabbed our pal Doreen Mulryan for this one.


Here’s a peek at a few of the early (and very scary) sketches.



Here are a couple sketches that needed some extra love by Doreen before going to color. Can you spot the differences we asked for?



How about in this one? (This one is easy!)



Doreen loves Halloween, and it shows. BOO!