Singer-songwriter Peter Himmelman targets younger fans with odes to feet, rain, and cooking for mom. Plus: a DVD about colors, and two Grade-A books
Peter Himmelman has the ”Kite” stuff
My Green Kite
Peter Himmelman (Rounder)
Dan Zanes, who just won the Grammy for Best Album for Children, isn’t the only semi-underground ’80s/’90s rocker who’s found sanctuary in the brightly colored arena of kids’ music. A lesser-known singer/songwriter-turned-proponent of kinder-rock, Peter Himmelman may have his profile as a cool small-fry guy improve now that he’s hooked up with the Rounder label. Some of us remember Himmelman as a sensitive rock artiste signed to Epic…or as a devout Jew who refused to play gigs on Fridays, long before Matisyahu made sabbath observance cool…or as Bob Dylan’s son-in-law…or as a musician who survived the death of major-label support for sensitive rock artistes by going on to score TV shows like Judging Amy, Bones, and Men in Trees. He was also legendary for sometimes leading audiences out of clubs or theaters and over to parks or coffeehouses for elongated, informal performances — the kind of spontaneity and joie de vivre that culminated in his becoming a pied piper for actual kids.
His fourth disc for children kicks off — no pun intended — with ”Feet,” an ode to the most odorous appendages. (”They got five little toes a piece/They bring me a joy that just doesn’t cease” — yes, he’s an excitable boy.) The title track ends with an air traffic controller expressing wonder that our boy Himmelman’s kite has passed the 40,000-foot mark. He doesn’t let bad kite weather get him down, either, as evidenced by a paean to ”Red Rubber Boots.” It’s a world of bliss and whimsy — except in ”Maybe is a Bad Word,” an anthem for any kid ever denied the God-given right of complete immediate gratification.
Himmelman’s voice isn’t the most mellifluous instrument in the world, and a few tracks here may be self-indulgent enough to cut down on the repeat-listenability factor that’s all-important to the genre. (”Nothin’ to Say” is a stream of consciousness from a kid who won’t shut up, something that’s bad enough for most parents without having it put in musical form.) But a pair of parental tributes really knock this one out of the sweetness ballpark: ”My Father’s an Accountant,” where our narrator realizes that a seeming dud of a dad is really a quiet hero, and ”I Made It For You,” a celebration of a lovingly made dinner as mom’s ultimate Valentine. B+ —Chris Willman
Recommended ages: 3 and up
Meet the Colors
(40 mins., 2007)
Preschool Prep Company has done it again, taking something that normally takes toddlers months to learn and making it that much easier for them to grasp. Joining a series that includes Letters, Numbers, and Shapes, the Colors DVD makes each hue a different, recognizable character, puts them in fun situations like downhill skiing or horseback riding, and reinforces those selections with repetition — the backbone for learning anything. Two of my toddlers were glued to this DVD, and one — at the ripe old age of 18 months — proudly pronounced her affinity for the color purple. A —Eileen Clarke
Recommended ages: 9 months to 4 years
Cornelius P. Mud, Are You Ready For Bed?
By Barney Saltzberg
This bright little board book features the bedtime rituals of a raffish little pink pig as he brushes his teeth, puts his toys away, gets his jammies on, and picks a bedtime book (We, We, We All The Way Home; Where the Wild Pigs Are; If We Give a Mouse a Pig). In short, Cornelius has to do what most every toddler needs to do at about 7 p.m. (Of course, does he actually want to go to bed? That’s another story.) A completely charming little book, one parents can read without having to grit their teeth. A —Tina Jordan
Recommended ages: 1-3
The Friskative Dog
By Susan Straight
Sharron’s dad has vanished — who knows where he is? — and her mom works long hours at the La Reina market to pay bills and make the rent at their shabby apartment. Worse, Sharron is heckled by a couple of other fourth-graders, rich girls named Piper and Paige who live in big houses with pools. But she has one comfort: the Friskative Dog, a plush little yellow lab puppy bought for her long ago by her father. The Friskative Dog is so real to Sharron, and so important, that she even spends precious allowance money having an ID tag made for him. Then she meets someone with a real yellow lab. Mrs. Rumer, who raises guide dogs, understands both Sharron’s loneliness and her fascination with dogs, so she explains everything she knows about breeds, packs, and training. Sharron suddenly has the language to put her world in perspective: ”Piper and Paige were of snappish temperament…. If they were dogs, they’d be — chihuahuas? pekinese?” Straight’s prose is simple and luminous; her story, heartwarming but not candy-sweet. I can’t recommend it highly enough. A+ —TJ
Recommended ages: 7-11