When my daughter was still a toddler, we had an audio/ musical picture book called Songs from the Baobab – Lullabies and Nursery Rhymes from Africa (by Chantal Grosléziat, originally published in France) that she loved. We would turn it on and she would start to dance around, eventually grabbing the book to look at the pictures while the songs played. The songs would soon go on repeat…and eventually she knew those songs, all in the languages of the 10 featured central and west African countries, by heart.
Gradually, she moved on to listening to audio picture books, stories largely authored by Mercer Mayer (What Do You do if a Kangaroo? and There’s Something in My Attic) and then on to Neil Gaiman’s audio picture books (The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish and The Wolves in the Walls). Now, the pictures are gone, and she listens to books like the Harry Potter series and The School for Good and Evil, visualizing the words she hears in her head.
This seemingly natural evolution from songs and images to mental visualization made me wonder why songs stick in our heads so much faster than just words alone and why the little ones are so taken by songs and verse with images and whether it is helping lay the foundation to mental visualization. According to recent research, songs accompanied by visuals or movement tend to have more “staying power” in our brains because it is a multi-sensory experience which engages the “whole-brain” (parts of both hemispheres). This notion is also “underpinned by neurological studies which show how many different regions of the brain can be recruited in processing musical stimuli.”*
Music can evoke strong emotions, which can create a stronger memory.** Songs with lyrics are thought to be recalled with more ease than other mnemonic devices because of their inherent whittled poetic structure of meter and rhyme. Whether this exposure to songs and nursery rhymes facilitates a child’s ability to mentally visualize and better process information, I cannot say for certain. I haven’t done a deep dive into the research but from the little I have read, there is a very strong connection between the integration of the the senses and the young brain’s ability to develop more sophisticated, higher level thinking and processing skills as well as visual perception.
And all of this brings me back to the source of my machination: the very unassuming audio picture book. A sweet little way to get your child on the road to loving music, movement, books, and reading! Here are the two of the latest offerings from The Secret Mountain, a Canadian company specializing in children’s media in English, French and Spanish, who also happen to be the distributor’s of Songs from the Baobab – Lullabies and Nursery Rhymes from Africa, the musical picture book that my daughter loved as a toddler!
The Hummingbird Sings and Dances: Lullabies and Nursery Rhymes is a collection of 19 traditional Latin-American Spanish language songs curated by author and illustrator Mariana Ruíz Johnson. Performed by Mexico City-based Grupo Cantaro, the collection is beautifully presented, and bound to appeal to native and non-native Spanish speakers alike. Lyrics are printed in both Spanish and English, framed by beautiful cut-paper style illustrations, so you and your soon-to-be Spanish speaker can follow along with the singers. Additionally, there is an illustrated map of Latin America, with the featured countries highlighted so the little ones (and big ones) can learn about this region of the world! The picture book comes with both a physical CD and a unique code for the digital download of all the recordings.
Level Pre-K-2nd grade
Once your little ones have absorbed all the Latin American songs and are happily snacking on their arepas, they can transition to listening to a newly released audio picture book by artist and author Jiu Er, We Were Made For Each Other! Originally only available in China, The Secret Mountain has translated it and recruited the vocal talents of CBC national radio host Julie Nesrallah to read aloud the collection of the mini-adventures of Little Sun, a sweet and plucky pig and her buddies Little Mouse and Miss Rabbit. There is always something to look forward to when you are surrounded with the people (or, in this case, creatures) you love!
Levels K-4th grade
*Janata P. Music and the self. In: Haas R., Brandes V., editors. Music That Works. Vienna: Springer, 131–141; 2009.
**Levine LJ, Edelstein RS. Emotion and memory narrowing: a review and goal-relevance approach. Cognition Emotion. 23 :833–875; 2009.
For more information on development of visualization skills and the brain/ body connection: