Can mere text lead to the dread earworm? Catchy tunes transmogrified into picture books

The cat came back
He just couldn’t stay away

The earworm can drive us to distraction. Whether it’s the latest Miley Cyrus chorus or a fast food jingle, once those notes get into your brain, they are darned hard to dislodge.

Take this into account before you accept the challenge of reading today’s column.

You have been warned. Ready?

To begin, the surrealistic pleasures of an American folk song, ‘There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly’. Burl Ives popularized it back in 1953. And there’s a Muppet version with Judy Collins online, for nostalgic folk of a different generation.

Illustrator Simms Taback has had great fun pasting the lyrics into pictures. A delightfully nutty old woman in chunky heels and a great brown hat with a flower wanders along until she suddenly… eats a bug. “I don’t why… she swallowed the fly. Perhaps she’ll die.”

There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly (1997) is filed with a blue dot (suggested ages 3 to 6, and suitable for any and all grown-ups). Colourful collages make this tome a lovely read. And there’s a hole – The Old Lady’s tummy keeps getting bigger and bigger, as she keeps eating up ever-larger beasts!

‘The Cat Came Back’ is another grand comic favorite. Old Mr. Johnson is a cantankerous old man who has no love for the four-legged creature that won’t buzz off. The darned thing won’t stay away!

Fred Penner’s version helped launch his career as a children’s singer. He also “wrote” this book (illustrated by Renee Reichert, 2005, filed with a blue dot), based on the tune.

Kitty even gets shot up into outer space, but manages to make it “home”. Spooky, yet hilarious.

In case the book, and your own humming, aren’t enough, the multiple-award-winning 1988 animated version – with tuba – can be found at nfb.ca; it’s about 8 minutes, and you can stream it online for free.

These internet suggestions are included here because there are times when you, or your child, may need to hear a tune in all its glory. This works especially well with classical music, as some parents might feel a bit intimidated by Symphony No. 5. Except there’s lots of popular tunes that we don’t even realize were written by classical musicians – like the beloved ‘Au Clair De La Lune’. It’s by Beethoven.

Marlene Jobert has cannily packaged a story – Claire Delune: Une Maitresse Extraordinaire, Pour Aimer La Musique De Beethoven (en francais, illustrated by Frederick Mansot, 2000, yellow dot, ages 6 to 9) – with a short, 16 minute CD.

A little girl can’t stop lying, and is sent into a very special teacher’s class to teach her a lesson. Mlle. Delune expresses her displeasure with lying with a stern bit of Beethoven; happiness gets a different few bars. Give a listen and you’ll understand: Adults will find it funny (“Hey! I know that tune!”), while children will fall in love with these iconic notes.

Jobert reads her story on the CD, with music mixed in for maximum effect; the author has a great reading voice, and kids learning to read can follow along with the book. (Jobert’s book is one in a series.)

And now for something completely different. The Violin: A Children’s Story (by Robert Thomas Allen, photographs George Pastic, 1976, blue dot), is all words.

It’s based on a 30-minute Canadian film of the same name. Young Chris saves up his pennies and nickels until he takes the full glass bottle to a music shop in order to buy a violin.

Outside, he carefully pulls the bow along the strings: “But the sound that came from the violin was nothing like the music in Chris’ head. It was like a squeaking door.”

Horrified, he throws the thing away, believing it to be “no good.” And he now has no money left to buy a proper violin!

An old man walking by sees the instrument in the park’s garbage can, picks it up, and plays something beautiful. Chris is entranced, and realizes that playing requires lessons and practice. The man (played by the late violinist Maurice Solway) teaches him. And they become friends.

Can such a book truly capture music? You’ll need to read it — and see whether you can hear.

– Eleanor Brown, April 4, 2014

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About BiblioLennLibrary

The Lennoxville Library, in Quebec's Eastern Townships, offers free memberships to all residents of Sherbrooke. We have a great selection of books in French and English, plus books on tape and CD, too! Check out our large-print section, our graphic novels... La Biblio Lennoxville se situe dans les Cantons-de-l'Est du Quebec. Les residents de Sherbrooke peuvent devenir membre gratuitement. Nous avons une grande selection de livres en francais et en anglais. Venez donc nous voir! Hours/Heures d'ouverture: Mardi-Tuesday, 10am to 5pm -- 10h a 17h Mercredi et Jeudi -Wednesday and Thursday, 10am to 6pm -- 10h a 18h Vendredi-Friday, 10am to 5pm -- 10h a 17h Samedi-Saturday, 11am to 4pm -- 11h a 16h Pour plus d'info, vous pouvez nous trouver au http://www.bibliolennoxvillelibrary.ca/ Click on the above to get to our website!
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