Review: Music Together’s Two Little Blackbirds & Hey, Diddle, Diddle

I recently received copies of a few new books created by the folks at Music Together. Known for their music classes for young children and their families, they have also been retelling traditional songs in picture book format, called Singalong Storybooks. Along with the books, Music Together includes recordings of the songs. Each book comes with a code for a free MP3 download or the songs can be listened to online here. What a great way to support the early literacy practices of reading and singing! Two of their latest books focus on songs familiar to many and the accompanying quality illustrations bring valuable context and meaning to the lyrics.

Two Little Blackbirds (Music Together, 2015)
Two Little Blackbirds is a simple and repetitive song from the 18th Century about a couple of birds, perfect for sharing with young children. In this retelling Jack and Jill are parents with young birds at home in the nest. Jack and Jill “fly away” to get food and “come back” to feed their babies. The text is easy to read and is nicely nested in the cheery illustrations that feel like collage, but are most likely digital. The images, many of which are double page spreads, offer both intimate views of the birds in the tree and a broader look at the surrounding landscape.

Two Little Blackbirds by Music Together (Photo Source:

Two Little Blackbirds (by Music Together (Photo Source:

The beauty of this book is found in the pages at the back which are as valuable as the actual story. At the back of the book, readers will find tips on how to share books, and in particular Two Little Blackbirds, with young children. These suggested activities extend the enjoyment and learning experience that the book offers and provide opportunities for families to explore the book in a variety of ways beyond reading the text or singing the lyrics. This addition to the book reminds me of the “10 Ways to Explore a Book” posters we’ve been making at our library.

Two Little Blackbirds Activity Pages (Photo Source:

Two Little Blackbirds Activity Pages (Photo Source:

The variations tip reminds me of the many additional verses to this song Dana and Lindsey, the Jbrarians, have recorded for librarians looking for storytime songs. Need suggestions for variations? Check out Jbrary’s YouTube recording.

Hey, Diddle, Diddle (Music Together, 2015)

Did you know that the fantastical song about a cow jumping over the moon first published in the Tales of Mother Goose (1765) is actually about a troupe of characters including a cow, a little dog, a dish and a spoon practicing for a play? So goes the Music Together retelling and it works, well in fact. The catchy song is made more memorable with colorful and humorous illustrations played out on mostly double-paged spreads. The text fits nicely into spaces purposely left in the images and is again easy to read in this book, demonstrating Music Together’s consistency.

Hey Diddle Diddle by Music Together (Photo Source:

Hey Diddle Diddle by Music Together (Photo Source:

Many of the activities at the back of this book are designed to get families moving and connecting with the story and song in a physical way, perfect for many preschoolers. Pretending to fiddle when the lyrics describe the cat fiddling, for example, is a simple way to engage young children. Along with the tips, each book includes the origins, or what is known of them, for each song which may be of interest to adults.

Verdict: These two new Singalong Storybook titles would be good additions to home and library collections for their high early literacy value.


Family: Bugs

What happens when a storytime guest doesn’t make it? Bug Storytime!

Everyone should have a storytime in their bag, so to speak, ready for unplanned events whether at your own library or at another location. This is one of the storytime plans I keep handy and it works nicely. Who doesn’t love bugs?

We started with the song cube. It provides instant singing and moving ideas, regardless of the theme, and invites the kids to be actively involved in storytime. It is also a great icebreaker for new families that aren’t quite sure what to do with themselves at the beginning.

Next we talked about bugs and insects and bugs that aren’t insects (arachnids for example). Kids were a little sad when I told them spiders were bugs, but not actually insects, which made me break into song (Itsy Bitsy Spider, of course). The kids quickly followed along! To keep the smiles going, we also sang the opposite, Biggy Wiggy Spider using our whole bodies.

We read three books this week, but there are many more that would work well for this storytime. Most of them are common in any library collection so you can find something at the last minute.

Insect by L A Mound (DK Publishing, 2004)
This book offers great illustrations for talking about the common anatomical features of insects. Any nonfiction title that offers high quality photographs works well.

DK Insects Photo credit:

DK Insects Photo credit:

Ladybug Girl by Jacky Davis and David Soman (Dial Books for Young Readers, 2008)
This book, and the several related titles, are popular with both girls and boys. Each title shows ladybug girl using her imagination and dealing with the emotional aspect of childhood experienced by many kids.

Ladybug Girl Photo credit:

Ladybug Girl Photo credit:

Bugs Galore by Peter Stein and Bob Staake (Candlewick Press, 2012)
This book’s rhyming text and bright images make for a fun read. As a group we enjoyed playing versions of I Spy… a blue bug or a flying bug, for example. Instead of kids running up to point to the bug, I asked them to use their words to describe for the rest of us where the bug was on the page.

Bugs Galore Photo credit:

Bugs Galore Photo credit:

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (Philomel Books, 1987)
A timeless book that kids love and delight in being able to predict the story and read along.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Photo credit:

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Photo credit:

Other ideas:
Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears: A West African Tale by Verna Aardema
Butterfly Butterfly: A Book of Colors by Petr Horacek
I Love Bugs! by Emma Dodd
Beetle Bop by Denise Fleming
Can You Make a Scary Face? by Jan Thomas
The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle
Alphabet of Insects story app by Oceanhouse Media in collaboration the Smithsonian could be read in parts on a large screen


In between stories we played a game of Simon Says, bug style. I found the idea on Jbrary’s Bug and Insects Storytime Pinterest Board (check out the board for other related storytime reads and songs).  I couldn’t find the actual cards seen on the board, but I had time to make my own quickly using clip art. The game was quite a hit and got us all moving in creepy crawly ways.


We also danced around the children’s library to the Caterpillar Conga by Tim Russ & Jedda Roskilly from their Bugsters Tunes & Tales album (played on my iPhone and broadcast on portable speakers).

We had three stations this week that were easy to put together with items I keep on hand.

Fingerprint Spiders
Tinker Lab has a nice write up about this craft and I used a modified version of the project based on the materials I found in my craft stash.
black ink pads (2)
thin black pens
googly eyes
watercolor paper (card stock will work) cut into 1/4 page (or postcard size pieces)
sink nearby or wet cloths to wipe ink’d fingers

Fingerprint Spiders

Fingerprint Spiders 2

Butterfly Sensory Tub
I like to include activities that offer experiences, but not always a take home product. Sensory tubs are always popular with a wide range of ages and I love the bug spin on this one from No Time for Flash Cards. Noodles need to be prepared in advance with time to dry overnight. This activity could be used in a bug storytime, color storytime, or anytime!

Bowtie pasta
Food coloring
Ziploc bags
Rimmed cookie sheets
Penne pasta (not dyed)
Plastic dish tubs
Plastic spoons
Measuring cups or other small cups
Colored plates
Small tongs

Butterfly Sensory Tub

I invited kids and caregivers to sort the butterflies by color using these colored plates from Ikea, spoons, and measuring cups. You could also use play tongs. Most kids just played with the noodles using their hands, but some took on the sorting challenge.

Butterfly Sensory Tub Coloring Sorting

Snail on a Leaf 
I did offer another craft station at which kids could make simple snails. Having multiple stations at storytime can be a lot of action and prep sometimes, but with large crowds and small tables, a third activity provides additional options to address different interests and prevent waiting. I found this craft at Art For Young Children.

Lightweight paper in several different colors for snail
Green paper for leaves (could be lightweight or heavyweight paper)
White glue
snail and leaf template from Art for Young Children  (I copied the template on to the colored paper before storytime)
Crayons and markers for adding color and decoration (optional)