“He who sings prays twice.” So said St. Augustine — in so many words. In fact, that succinct choice of words is an abridgement of the thought the Church’s most celebrated thinker actually expressed on the matter. But were truer words ever spoken? Watch a child singing a carol or hymn with all his heart and you’ll have your answer.
Music provides a natural conduit for helping children to learn the faith as something far greater than a mere story or idea. Thanks to the soul-stirring wonders of many-part harmony, it can also aid in ushering them into participation in the Church community.
Meanwhile, it’s surprising how effectively the power of melodic tunes can be conveyed through the pages of a book. Check out a few of these titles and see if you can resist not just reading to your children but singing to them, too.
THIS LITTLE LIGHT OF MINE
traditional African-American spiritual
illustrated by E.B. Lewis
Simon & Shuster, 2005
32 pages, $16.95
The lyrics that make up the text of this book have been sung so long and so often, it’s easy to forget that they’re a direct, affirmative response to words spoken by the Lord himself. “[Y]our light must shine before others,” Jesus explains in Matthew 5:16, “that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” The watercolor images suggest some ways to “shine,” as they show a young boy who brings the joy of Christ to others with simple smiles, hugs and helping hands. A delight. Ages 4 to 8.
JESUS WANTS ME FOR A SUNBEAM
illustrated by Hans Wilhelm
20 pages, $5.99
“Jesus wants me for a sunbeam / To shine for Him each day / In every way try to please Him / At home, at school … / at play.” This version of the Vacation Bible School favorite extends the “shine” theme to the natural reaches of the young, impressionable imagination. Bright, happy illustrations designed to stay in the mind’s eye will help kids retain the message. Ages 3 to 8.
HE’S GOT THE WHOLE WORLD IN HIS HANDS
illustrated by Kadir Nelson
32 pages, $16.99
A favorite for generations, this old-time spiritual seems brand new when paired with vibrant, joyful illustrations. Each turn of the page reveals a fresh interpretation of the evocative notion that, gigantic as it is, the entire world — and all its inhabitants — are under God’s control and loving care. Ages 3 to 8.
IF YOU’RE HAPPY AND YOU KNOW IT — JUNGLE EDITION
words adapted from traditional lyrics
illustrated by James Warhola
32 pages, $14.99
Magic happens when a brother and sister visit an animal-themed playground. As the kids sing the perennially popular song of the title, the animal statues spring to life and add verses of their own. Young readers will love to sing, move, clap, roar and jump their way through the song with the rest of jungle crew. Most of the storyline is told through the clever illustrations, which will invite repeated explorations. Ages 4 to 8.
TWINKLE, TWINKLE, LITTLE STAR
written and illustrated by Kate Toms
Make Believe Ideas Ltd., 2007
24 pages, $7.99
A little mouse looks to the sky and wonders about the vastness above and about. He’d love to lasso a sparkly star and have it all for himself. Revised lyrics add freshness to the familiar tune. (“Twinkle, twinkle, little star / How I wonder what you are / When it’s time to climb the stairs / To brush my teeth and say my prayers / Through my window I can see / That you are smiling down on me.”) Hand-stitched illustrations call forth a folksy charm. Ages 3 to 6.
M IS FOR MELODY: A MUSIC ALPHABET
written by Kathy-Jo Wargin
illustrated by Katherine Larson
Sleeping Bear, 2005
40 pages, $7.95
Covering topics from anthem to zither, this ABC book introduces youth to the world of music. Each alphabetical entry includes a rhyming poem, a blurb with detailed background information and an inviting illustration. Readers will encounter a whole range of references to instruments, composers and style as they make their way through the pages of this information-rich text. A helpful find for aspiring singers and musicians. Ages 8 to 12.
THE EENSY-WEENSY SPIDER
words adapted by Mary Ann Hoberman
illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott
Little, Brown, 2004
32 pages, $6.99
In this expanded version of the popular action verse, an eight-legged neighbor has adventures that go far beyond the waterspout. The tiny arachnid heads out on a spring day and meets many friends along the way. She takes walks, gets new shoes and, at the end of a long day, follows a happy glowworm home to the safety of bed and her mother’s waiting arms. This cheerful book includes bright illustrations, a musical score and directions for hand gestures. Ages 4 to 8.
I SAY A LITTLE PRAYER FOR YOU
written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David
illustrated by Karin Littlewood
28 pages, $16.95
Parents and grandparents may remember the words and tune of this popular 1960s hit song. Creatively reinterpreted for a new audience, the book celebrates the special love shared between mother and child. Tasteful, nicely rendered watercolors accompany the lyrics. Together, words and pictures send a positive message about the linking of love, prayer and celebration within the family circle. Ages 4 to 8.
WEE SING BIBLE SONGS
illustrated by Nancy Spence Klein
64 pages, $9.99
Part of the Wee Sing series, this book and CD package features more than 60 songs based on Scripture. Words, music and even some hand motions are included for this mix of spirituals, hymns, choruses and folk songs. The CD accompaniment makes this a good pick for singing along at home or in the car. Ages 4 to 10.
The Crawford sisters write