Sing Books with Emily, the Blog

The Illustrated Songs We Sang at Tucker Elementary School in Alexandria, VA

Posted on: April 8, 2018

I got to make a special visit last week to the wonderful Samuel W. Tucker Elementary School in Alexandria, VA.  Many thanks to friend Elizabeth Casey for inviting me to Sing Books in a group of children for which she was conducting a special intersession class she titles “Adventures Through Books.”  I got to join her on a day in which students were spending most of the day with Elizabeth and her friend exploring quilting (which, not just a craft, ties into cultural heritage and things like math and patterns) with Patricia Polacco’s profound book, The Keeping Quilt. If I were in first or second grade again, I would have begged to be in this class.  Elizabeth planned amazing activities like these based on marvelous books for two weeks!

So, I was honored to be part of Adventures Through Books!

Here are the songs we sang, listed in alpha order:

I played a kazoo during the musical interlude in this one
backwards birthday party
The Backwards Birthday Party
Music and Lyrics by Tom Chapin and John Forster
Illustrated by Chuck Groeninck


Grandma’s Feather Bed (John Denver’s)
Words and Music by Jim Connor
Adapted and Illustrated by Christopher Canyon

i'm late sbwe book cover for blog
I’m Late
Words by Bob Hilliard
Music by Sammy Fain
This book is for home and classroom use only.

I blew a 3 note train whistle with this one

I’ve Been Working on the Railroad

Traditional Words and Tune
Edited by Ann Owen
Illustrated by Sandra D’Antonio


Late for School

Words and Music by Steve Martin
Illustrated by C.F. Payne
Published by Grand Central Publishing/Hachette Book Group, New York, 2010
ISBN 978-044-6-55702-3

I hooted Ethel May the owl whistle at the beginning of this one
sweet suffolk owl book for singing book cover
Sweet Suffolk Owl
Poem Attributed to an Anonymous Author
Illustrations Assembled by Emily Leatha Everson Gleichenhaus

take me home country roads
Take Me Home, Country Roads

Words and Music by John Denver, Taffy Nivert and Bill Danoff
Words Adapted by Christopher Canyon
Illustrated by Christopher Canyon
ISBN 978-1584690726

tomorrow 4 sbwe cover only
Words by Martin Charnin
Music by Charles Strouse
From the Musical ANNIE
For classroom use only.

I blew a 4 note train whistle for this one

There’s a Train Out for Dreamland
Music and Lyrics by Frederich H. Heider and Carl Kress
Illustrated by Jane Dyer and Brooke Dyer
ISBN 978-0-06-058022-3


You’re a Grand Old Flag
Words and Music by George M. Cohan
Illustrated by Warren Kimble

I absolutely love to talk to the children and answer their questions and hear about the things that the songs bring to mind.  But, unfortunately, my time with each of the classes is always so limited. There are some songs that really stir the emotional, imaginative, and intellectual pots of children’s minds and each of these songs could easily spur a lengthy discussion and sharing session. In addition to this, each song is worth of a class all on it’s own.  Every song was written for a reason. The lyricist and composer’s life and experiences is essential to it’s DNA (so to speak).  And, a song comes from a cultural or political context and from a particular time and place.  There is SO much to learn, not just from the lyricist’s and composer’s words and music and ideas in the song itself, but also from exploring the context, time, and place in which it was written.  For this reason, it’s always appropriate to build songs and music into ANY curriculum. And, for this reason, curriculum can be built around songs.

This is all to say that, like almost every class I visit, the children wanted to share thoughts and ideas and they had lots of questions.  And, since our time was limited and we wanted to fit in as many songs as possible, I regrettably had to ask them to keep their questions in mind.  But I did ask them to tell Ms. Casey the questions they had so that I could write back and answer them later.  I am SO grateful that Ms. Casey did in fact follow up and send me the kids’ questions.  Here are the questions, followed by my responses:

How does she use the whistle? (Laylah)
To “play” the train whistle, you just blow into it. When you sing, you learn how to breath properly. Your voice teacher might say, “breath from your diaphragm.” Your diaphragm is the big muscle just below your lungs. But I like to also think of breathing into my lower back. By thinking about breathing into your lower back you can really fill your whole lungs with air from bottom to top. And, breathing into your lower back also helps you to use good posture for singing. So, when I get ready to give a good blow into the train whistle, I’ll take a deep breath into my diaphragm and lower back and blow into the whistle to give it a good full sound. The kazoo, it a little bit the same, in that it takes a lot of air, so you use your singer breathing, but for a kazoo, you also hum notes.

Does she have the words to the songs memorized? (Nathaly)
Because I’m usually singing illustrated songs, that means that I have the book there with me, I don’t have ALL the words to all the songs memorized. Some songs, though, I do know by heart, particularly if I’ve sung them as part of a solo performance. A solo performance is one in which it’s just me singing in a performance space with someone else playing music for me (like on piano or guitar). Sometimes I do accompany myself with guitar or ukulele. I don’t consider Sing Books visits as solo performances, since I feel like the books are a partner and the kids are, too. And I often like to refer to the book pages while I’m singing to help kids sing the printed lyrics with me.

When I do need to memorize lyrics for a solo performance (or when I’m part of a group singing together), I have to work really hard at it. My daughter, for example, is really good at memorizing lyrics. She can hear a song only once and can then sing it all by herself. My brain does not work that way. To memorize a song, I have to write out the words many, many times. And then I go the extra step of making a movie for the song in my head. I’ll go through the song phrase by phrase or even word by word so that I know EXACTLY what they mean and then I search my brain for thoughts, images, and memories to attach to the words. Once I’ve written it out many times and have the movie going in my head, I can sing the song. But it takes a lot of work for me!

Does she take anything for her throat so it doesn’t dry out? (Layla)
YES! Water! Water is a singer’s best friend. I was taught that the water should not be cold, though, because you want to keep your vocal chords nice a warm.

Can we be BFFs? Can she come again? (Zoe)
Oh, Sweetie, that’s so nice. Thank you. I think music is magic and that it makes friends of everyone who enjoys music together. We sang together, so that makes us friends. And yes, I’d love to come again.

How many schools does she visit? (Henock)
One of the great things singing is that you can take your voice everywhere! I sing all over the place: schools, libraries, places of worship, farmer’s markets, theaters, performance spaces, cabaret rooms, people’s houses, my front porch, community centers, you name it! I’ve visited many, many schools. I’m not even sure how many. I do have a regular schedule with 3 different schools, but I absolutely LOVE making new friends at new schools like I got to do with your class the other day. That was sooooooo much fun and each one of you was soooooo good!

Does she have more than two whistles? (Omar)
Yes! I sure do. I absolutely LOVE musical instruments of all kinds. Whistle wise, I’ve got a whole bunch: train whistles, slide whistles, bird whistles (like my owl and others that mimic the calls of other birds, like a duck), playground whistles, and many shapes and sizes of kazoos.

Can she be our singing teacher at Tucker? (Nathaly)
That’s super sweet of you to ask that. It might seem like I’m a teacher because I’m a grownup, but, I’m not a teacher. I’m what you’d call a performer or a vocalist. I think there is a lot for all of us to learn from and through songs, but my main job is to share and interpret the songs with and for you and tell the stories with the songs. Your music teacher it working very hard and in wonderful ways to teach you how music works. Over time, knowing how music works will help you to enjoy and appreciate music even more and maybe even to make music yourself!

What is your favorite book? (Zoe)
I do love all the illustrated songs that are in my repertoire. Repertoire is the set of songs that a singer knows and sings on a regular basis. If I don’t love a song, I don’t put it in my repertoire. Or, if I decide I don’t like it for some reason, I’ll take it out. And because I love them all, it is impossible for me to pick a favorite.

But I do have some favorite children’s books that are not songs, including:

It’s hard to choose a favorite book, too! I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE books and stories.

Can I get her signature? (Zoe)
Hi! I wrote a note to all of you and took a picture of it:


It was so wonderful to meet your class and I’m so glad Ms. Casey asked me to come visit with you!
I hope to see you soon!
Mrs. G

And Ms. Casey was very nice to take some pictures!

This is a scene from our warming up by singing the ABCs with ASL

2018 04 05 ASL ABCs Tucker

This is a scene from LATE FOR SCHOOL

2018 04 05 LATE FOR SCHOOL Tucker

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