Friday, October 26, 2012

Cagey Cajun Style Delivers Reading Advice

When Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans, there were numerous side effects. One positive headline was the re-cultivation of an international interest in the musical traditions of the area. For a brief period of time (far less than 15 minutes), people remembered Allen Toussaint.

Fanning the flames of the New Orleans sound for children's music is Johnette Downing. An educator who has spent 20 years traveling the world, Downing has recorded 10 CDs as well as numerous children's books. Her efforts have garnered 21 national awards (check her website for the complete list).

Her latest CD, READING ROCKS!, stresses an obvious point. How do you get kids ages 2-8 to open a book? Well, you could do worse than have Downing sing them a story, which she does on "Why the Oyster Has the Pearl" and "Why the Crawfish Lives in the Mud." As you might expect from the titles, there's a strong, admirable respect for the culture and sensibilities of Louisiana.

"Books and music played an important role in my childhood and I wanted to share the thins I love with others," Downing explains. "My greatest musical influences came from having the good fortune to have been born and raised in Louisiana, the birthplace of jazz, Cajun, Creole, and Zydeco music."

Downing uses those influences on two versions of "Today Is Monday..." one set in Kentucky:

Monday burgoo
Tuesday sorghum
Wednesday hot brown
Thursday Bibb lettuce
Friday rolled oysters
Saturday derby pie
Sunday spoon bread
Come and eat it up.

And the other in New York:

Monday is apples
Tuesday pastrami
Wednesday Buffalo wings
Thursday Nathan's Hot Dogs
Friday cheesecake
Saturday pizza
Sunday bagels and lox
Come and eat it up.

As regular blog readers know (come on, there are some of you), I have a natural aversion to "message" songs and concept CDs. Downing does everything but hit kids over the head with her message. "Pick up a book and read," she sings on "R*E*A*D." The emphasis is hers, not mine. Okay, that song is barely more than 90 seconds, but we get the point.

However the stories are amusing and the tunes are catchy. Downing has been at this game a long time and she executes an amiable game plan: Deliver a message, teach kids about the music of her beloved New Orleans, and get out before they realize they've learned something. Mission accomplished. Have some creole.

READING ROCKS! is available on November 20 from Johnette Downing's website, Amazon, CDBABY, iTunes, and her Facebook Fan Page.
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