Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Review: Sundrops by The Harmonica Pocket

Welcome to another installment of my semi-regular music review series. As I've written previously I am on a quest to find kids music that won't drive grownups crazy. I wasn't raised with kids music. My mother decided she'd rather hear The Sound of Music 5,000 times over anything that had been marketed to kids in the 1980s, so I was raised on a steady diet of show tunes and The Beatles. Since becoming a dad my kids have been listening to a lot of mid-90s rock and hip hop. As they've gotten older and started singing along I've realized that I actually would like for them to listen to something with more appropriate themes for their ages. Still, I can't go full Disney. I knew I had to find something else to bridge the gap between Can You Feel the Love Tonight and Cold Hard Bitch, so I started exploring kindie rock albums. As always the reviews are written from the perspective of someone who wants to help you find music that your kids will enjoy and that won't make you want to stab out your ear drums.

Today's offering is "Sundrops" by The Harmonica Pocket. Musically the album offers your typical guitars, drums and violins that seem to be staples of kids albums, but is also delightfully arranged with walls of horns that are energetic without being overly aggressive. Comparisons can be fraught, but I'd say the album sounds a bit like Belle and Sebastian for kids.

The album emotionally arcs like a summer day, starting light and lively, sauntering through the afternoon, and then winding down with a lullaby. Within this arc it explores three sets of themes tied to common childhood experiences. The first four songs (Sing In the Sun, Raindrops, It's Gotta Rain -If You Want a Rainbow-, Sun Song) are about the weather and its effects on the world and our moods.

Keeth Apgar and Nala Walla © 2015 Jeff Eichen
These opening tracks remind me of the kind of songs we would have sat around singing at my hippie Berkeley preschool. If you close your eyes and listen to Raindrops you can see kids at Esalen dressed in white linens and daisy chain crowns dancing in a circle. This is a great image for me, full of the freedom and thrill of discovery inherent in, "the free-range childhood" the artists (and I) remember in the late 1970s and 1980s. You could imagine these songs getting mainstream airplay in the late 1960s.

The only miss in the first four is It's Gotta Rain, which my wife and I agreed is "aggressively kiddie." It's Gotta Rain is lyrically repetitive, and front-man Keeth Apgar's vocals involve the common, hey-I'm-singing-to-kids intonation that I'm specifically trying to avoid when searching out music to listen to with my kids. That said, It's Gotta Rain has a beautiful melody and arrangement behind the vocals.

Parents who can power through It's Gotta Rain will be rewarded by the next four songs, which touch on near universal themes of childhood. Are You a Monster Too? on its surface about an insecure monster, explores deeper themes of childhood social anxieties. I can see myself name checking the song when talking with my kids about host of potential issues, from understanding the behavior of others, to accepting our own insecurities.

Digga Dog Kid and Surprise are up beat celebrations of childhood exploration and flights of fancy. I don't want to oversell Ukelele, but it's our favorite song on the album. The joy in the song is in the discovery so I'll leave it at that. (I know, I sound like the endings of the book reports that Ramona Quimby hated most, but seriously you have to hear the song for yourself in order to love it.)

The album winds down with the perfectly toned, melancholy yet peppy Sun Drops, a mellow cover of You are My Sunshine, and the sleepily bluesy It's Getting Night Now. Also included in the wind-down final third of the album is Butterfly Away, another beautifully arranged song that misses somewhat when it comes to the lyrics. In the person of a caterpillar dreaming of its future Apgar croons, "I'll be beautiful someday." It makes me want to hug the little caterpillar and tell it, "No no buddy, you're beautiful right now." I can see the message of the song being in line with the "It gets better" philosophy, and there's a good chance it can teach kids about the solace of being a late bloomer, but it's still not my favorite.

In the end "Sundrops" is a fun album that adults will enjoy, as will their kids. The songs are upbeat, educational, and very well arranged and produced. The music and instrumentation is on par with any current alt or folk rock album. I definitely recommend it for parents with young (pre-tween) kids.

You can find more of Harmonica Pocket including music clips, lyrics and the stories behind the songs, and a performance schedule at their website. They also have a YouTube channel.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Having a Reader

 A cool thing happened over the weekend, my son learned to read. Not in a miracle phonics thing you buy off of late night TV way. He's been learning to read for years now. I'll admit, I was actually starting to get anxious about it. He's recently six-years-old and I remember that by six I was reading on my own, a lot. But until last week The Boy wasn't doing it.

It's not that he couldn't read. I was pretty sure that his not reading was due to his general abundance of caution. The kid doesn't like to do anything until he knows he can do it. He's not a huge risk taker. This is a kid who used to walk to the curb, sit down, swing his legs down and then stand up because he didn't trust himself to just step off the edge. So he kept asking that things be read to him, which is fine with books but can get tedious when walking down the street.

"Dad, what does that say?"

"Dad, what does that say?"

"Dad, what does that say?"

"Dad, what does that say?"

"Dad, what does that say?"

I DON'T KNOW!!!! No, not really. But buddy I believe that you can read it if you really want to. He's spent the last several months sounding things out as if they aren't meant to be words. He's been sounding like Dory speaking whale in Finding Nemo, "Puh Huh Own Buh uh uh Ka" No bud, it says "Phone Book."

I don't know what happened over the weekend. Maybe his curiosity finally overcame his fear of failure. The result is that he's reading. Ever since the weekend it's been,

"Hey dad, that says 'bike repair'."

"Hey dad, that says 'beer and wine'."

"Hey dad, who's Jim Beam?"

OK, I swear I'm making these examples up.

The point is that suddenly having a reader is awesome. It opens up a whole new world of possibilities. Now when I'm cooking dinner and he wants a story he can read one. All on his own. Even better, he can read one to his sister too. The other day in the car he read her Fox in Socks. That's some next level ish for a kid who just a few days before claimed he couldn't read the header on the Cheerios box. Now he's asking me what riboflavin is. (And of course I'm like, "Let's look it up!")

If you already have older kids maybe you know the joy of suddenly having a reader. If you have younger kids, I'm telling you there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Pretty soon your little ones will be able to involve themselves in the joys of textploration, which come to think of it probably comes with a whole other set of parenting pit falls.

But I'm not going to worry about that today. Today I'm stoked that my son just became a little more self sufficient. Me and my buddy Jim can figure out the rest as it happens.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Finding Cair Paravel

The absolute best part of being a stay at home dad is the ability to take spontaneous trips around town. Our area is thick with museums and historical sites. When we first started staying home last year we had a lot of breakfast conversations like this:

"Dad, what's a lynx?"

"It's a big cat, like a puma or something."

"Oh, what does it look like?"

"I don't know, let's go to the zoo and see if we can find one."

And off we'd head to the zoo, or the history museum, or wherever we thought we'd find the answer to that morning's question.

One of my favorite trips was our search for Cair Paravel. It started when I found this article about what are thought to be discarded masonry from an old renovation of the Capitol building. The pictures and article struck me as a chance to do something fun and to get some hands-on history.

I think I'm particularly enamored of this trip because I don't often make up elaborate ruses to entertain the kids. I generally think that there are plenty of amazing and wondrous things about the real world, so that we don't need to add much. Not that I'm a total stick in the mud. I love make believe, and fiction, and movies. I just don't think I need to blur the lines between what's real and what's fanciful as a parenting technique. That said, for some reason I really wanted to have a magical archaeological adventure this time. They were reading the Narnia books at bedtime and had recently read about the Pevensie kids returning to find a ruined Cair Paravel, so I went for it.

Another aspect of the stones is that most of the articles about them are circumspect about their exact location. Part of the fun of the stones is finding them. Also, as one jogger blogger noted, it's probably better to keep some mystery so the stones don't get overrun and ruined. (Though the idea of ruining ruins is interesting to contemplate).

So we set off. I told the kids we were going hiking and looking for the ruins of an ancient castle. Even with the information we had it was tough to find. We ended up doing quite a bit of wandering around, which added to the building excitement and mystery. We even went off the trails in an attempt to find a short cut to another trail head. Going off trail meant going down into a ravine, crossing a stream and then hiking back up the other side. It ended up being a much cooler approach than if we'd found it by taking the right trail.

The kids were mesmerized by the ruins and took to exploring them with the kind of abandon that can worry a cautious parent like me. In that regard it was a good exercise for me in terms of allowing them to climb and explore without hovering and calling out "be careful" every few seconds. That's probably a whole other post, but even though I was a daredevil as a kid and only suffered one major injury I see danger all around when my kids play.

We played the Narnia angle for a while, with my son as Peter and my daughter as both Lucy and Susan depending on how she felt at any given moment. I had to be Edmund, which was OK since I know how things turn out.

After some play time and a snack we talked about why the stones were really there, or at least what they really are. No one seems to know exactly why they're there. It was one of the best days we'd had during my SAHD time. It was a trip that included everything I'd wanted when I started staying home with them, make believe, exercise, and education all in one trip.

For me, that's where the magic is. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

"What Do You Do?" Why I'm Changing the Name of this Blog

Answering the basic party question, "What do you do?" is always weird for me. The answer largely depends on where I am and who I am talking to. A lot of the time it depends on what the person asking the question does. Sometimes the answer depends on what I spent most of my day doing.

I'm a homemaker, and a teacher
I'm not being intentionally vague, as some people in the region are wont to do. The problem is that the short answers don't explain enough and the long answer is either boring or sounds (to me) like bragging. I don't want to be boring or boastful, so instead there's different people out there with different ideas of what I do. I'm not sure why this makes me uneasy. Maybe I subscribe to the idea that we are defined by what we do as much as by who we are outside of our vocations.

So what do I do and what does any of this have to do with changing the name of this blog?

I started writing a blog back in 2003. The title at the time was Berto is Sir Rantalot, a moniker bestowed upon me one summer at Shakespeare camp . (Did I mention I'm a nerd?) I stopped writing for a while and when I came back I kept the BISR concept in the URL for this current incarnation. In the mean time I had learned about something called Google and had used it find that a lot of people used "Sir Rantalot." So I changed the name, but didn't do any more Googling. I had always liked the idea of presenting rants because they could be emotional. There wasn't as much pressure to be 100% factually accurate with every post. I wanted to maintain that idea with the new name.  I landed on Rantom Thoughts. I thought I was very clever and since I didn't really have any readers anymore I didn't think the name mattered to anyone but me.

I'm a husband, and a stay at home dad
I'll be honest, the name probably still doesn't matter to anyone but me. But recently I joined a bloggers group on Facebook and as a result I've been writing more/again and something happened. I started getting readers outside of my family. I don't want to over sell my impact on the world, but it's been cool to see more people reading what I'm putting out here. I even got curious about where I was in the Google search results. That's when I found three other blogs also using the title "Rantom Thoughts." They all appear to be inactive but two of them predate my use of the title. One is written by a guy named Tom so the title is perfect for him. The other one actually registered the domain rantomthoughts.com. None of these other authors have been in touch about the overlap, and as of this writing I'm now the top search result, but it just didn't sit right with me. So I decided to re-brand.

The problem is, I clearly suck at coming up with names. So I reached out to my friends and fellow writers for help. I got a lot of fun name suggestions and one piece of very good advice:

"If you're thinking about a rename, don't start with just trying to think of a new name. Start by really defining what you've done so far and your future goals with your blog. Think about your voice and personality of the blog. Is there a specific direction your blog leans in or is it very general stuff? Work on a list of what makes your blog unique. Once you know exactly what it is and where you want it to go, then call it something that fits that tone."
So I started thinking. The writing here has started to trend towards parenting issues. I think that's natural given my current role as a stay at home dad. But I don't want to be just a "dad blogger." Not that I want to throw shade at my fellow dad bloggers, because I am a dad blogger. But I also wanted to maintain the freedom to write about sports and politics and  to dabble in fiction and whatever else came to mind. So I started thinking about who I am, and who I want to be.

Which brings me back to the question, "What do you do?" and why it's hard to answer.

When I was young I was an actor. I loved acting because it gave me a taste of other people's lives. I didn't want to have one job in one place doing one thing. I wanted every job. I wanted to be a police officer and a fireman and a lawyer and an astronaut and an archaeologist. But I didn't really want to do the work of any of those, I just wanted the experience. Acting gave me that right up until I did a serious self assessment and realized I probably wasn't going to be able to make a career of that either.

I'm an interpreter
I still had the same desires though. I was lucky to find interpreting, which offered the same vocational flexibility as acting with the bonus of a steady paycheck. Interpreting is basically improv theater. The interpreter has about six seconds to become the character, except the "character" is a person sitting in front of you who has very real needs. As an interpreter I've had experiences I would never have had otherwise. I've shared the stage with a president. I've worked for a major league baseball team. I've been through a lifetime's worth of boring government meetings for almost every Federal agency you could think of. I've been a lawyer and a police officer and perp. I've been a programmer and an artist and a thousand other things that I can't actually be on my own.

I'm a researcher
I loved interpreting. I still love interpreting. I am still an interpreter.

I'm also not an interpreter anymore. I left full time interpreting to pursue a PhD in interpreting pedagogy and research. One of the issues I faced starting early in my career was that my research didn't follow one thread. I wanted to research interesting questions rather than focus on one sub-field. This is fun, except when people ask me what my research is about. I struggle for a catch all title. I have studied idioms, lexical innovation, cognition, and LOL-speak. I say that I research "novel and emerging language use," but that's not a real descriptive title. It's too general.

I'm a student
I was told that being too interdisciplinary would hold me back as a career academic. I was told that if people couldn't quickly identify what I do and how it would help their department I'd have a hard time finding a job. I kind of didn't care. I feel like the whole fun of being in a university is seeing where your field can overlap with, be enhanced by, and enhance the work of people in adjacent fields. I want to study interesting questions and the most interesting questions lie at the intersections of current research. I don't want to be "The Gesture Guy," or the "Idiom Guy," or the "Innovation Guy." I want to be the guy who figures out how all of those are related to something else that no one thought they all related to.

That's who I want to be as a writer also. I want to write about interesting questions. So the answer to who I am and what I want this blog to be is complicated.

I'm a player, and a referee
I'm a stay at home dad.
I'm a freelance academic.
I'm a teacher.
I'm a student.
I'm a researcher.
I'm a sports fan.
I'm Asian.
I'm Latino.
I'm an American.
I'm an interpreter.
I'm a husband.
I'm a rugby player.
I'm a referee. 
I'm a coach.

I am all of those things in different amounts each day. The answer to "What do you do?" depends as much on my audience at the moment as it does on what I did the most of that day.  Who I am to you depends on our relationship.

I lead an interdisciplinary life; as an academic, as a professional, as a writer. So that's what I settled on for a title. (I Googled it, no one else is using it.) It's funny. Just yesterday someone asked me what I do. I'd never met them before, and I'll probably never meet them again. I don't know why, but despite having several published works and throwing thoughts at the internet for twelve years, for the first time in my life I answered, "I'm a writer."

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Social Consciousness is a Moving Target

Like all parents there are some things we're doing right, and some thing we're still figuring out. Of course there's also the fact that kids will often just do whatever they want, and that's fine. We are trying to raise our kids to understand and appreciate choice and diversity. We want our daughters to know they can play with action figures and play sports if they want. We encourage our son to play dress-up and wear whatever colors he decides he likes. It's been going pretty well. Even though they are still drifting towards traditional "boy/girl" activities more often than not they do play a lot of games together. Sometimes there are funny reminders that they are still figuring out both themselves and the world around them.

There has been a lot of discussion in my corner of the internet about the lack of female action figures. It started with a father's quixotic search for a Gamora figure, and has moved along to a recent story of Marvel man-washing Black Widow out of a toy line based on her big cool scene in Age of Ultron. I fully support the idea that many boys would want a Black Widow figure. I am certain that many girls would want a Black Widow figure. My kids typically want their toys to be the same gender as themselves. The Boy does play with his Wonder Woman Lego figure, but he typically decides that his stuffed animals are boys, and insists that his version of El Toro Loco is driven by a man even though the driver was Becky McDonough when we went to the show.

So sure, that makes me a little sad, but he's being himself. All I can do is provide opportunities and messaging, I can't make those decisions for them. On the other hand there are places where we are definitely succeeding. (Though maybe success/failure isn't the right way to frame the previous discussion.) My kids think it is perfectly normal for two people of the same gender to get married.

Doing "girl things"
Where it gets interesting for me is when these two areas intersect. This morning as we were waiting for the bus the kids started playing house with some twigs. The Boy had the two larger twigs so he took the role of the parents. Lou had the smaller stick so she took the role of the child. The part that caught my attention is that The Boy's aversion to playing a female character led to him declaring that his sticks were "two men who got married." My internal reaction could be described as "YayD'oh" (TM pending).

As with many things about parenting I don't see this as problem that needs fixing. The kids are going to pretend what they will. I do think it's an interesting window into their development as socially conscious people. I look forward to tomorrow's chuckle worthy gem from my little developing minds.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Mother's Day of Action

Over the years that we've been together my wife has become increasingly interested in social justice. We sometimes joke that it was dating a tan-man that started her on this path, but the truth is it was always there. Since the events in Ferguson last year T has felt a stronger pull to go out and do what she can to try to help. This has primarily manifested in attending rallies and marches.

I have tried to support her as best I can. This past summer we drove 17 hours to Ferguson to join a march. Most of my support has been less dramatic. Often I do not attend the rallies, instead I support her by holding down the fort at home so she can go out.

This year T said that what she wanted for Mother's Day was to join the Million Moms March. So we did. The march was led by a group of mothers who had lost children to police violence, and some who had lost children to other gun violence. We rallied in the park, then marched down to the Department of Justice where the mothers presented a DOJ representative with a list of demands.

As we marched back to the park we witnessed an interaction that presented a perfect capsule for the divide in race and class relations in America. An African-American woman who had lost a family member in a police shooting was marching and speaking into a bull horn. She was giving the world her vision for the future and her demands of the justice system. There were a few other rallies and gatherings downtown today as well, including one along our parade route that included ringing a bell and reading out the names of people killed in the Vietnam War. It was a coincidence of timing that our march passed by the war memorial during the reading of the names.

All of a sudden an elderly white woman materialized in our midst. Her presence wasn't odd because she was white, or because she was older, it was diverse crowd. It was odd because of how she was moving, in the opposite direction of the marchers, sometimes turning around as if looking for someone. She seized upon the the woman with the bull horn, imploring her, "Please! Please be quiet! Stop it! This is a memorial!"

The woman with the bull horn wasn't having it. Not today, not during this march where people held signs that read "White silence = white compliance." She turned on the elderly woman and said, "Don't you touch me. Don't you talk to me. I will not be silent. You are not a black woman. You don't have to worry about them shooting your son down in the street. They shot my family down in the street. You're safe. Your kids are safe. Now get out of my way."

I wondered if this woman from the memorial didn't have to worry about her son being killed by police because she's white, or because her son had already been killed in Vietnam. That's our problem. We often fail to see that the kid killed in Vietnam 40 years ago, and the kid killed in Baltimore last month were killed by the same system. What the woman from the memorial may not realize is that the interruption of her moment is exactly what people mean when they cry out "No justice, no peace!" That phrase isn't a call to riot. It is a reminder that the disruption of other people's lives is sometimes the only way to get their attention. It isn't callous disrespect, it's both the calculated and collateral disruption of things other people take for granted.

I'll admit that I'm not totally convinced about how much change these rallies lead to. Not that I have any better ideas for those of us who do not roam the halls of power other than the old stand by of making sure we get out and vote. But I do see value in my wife and my family attending these rallies.

Other than my wife being able to fulfill her obligation to her beliefs I think these rallies are great educational opportunities for the kids. It would be easy to read that statement with cynicism and say that I am exploiting these events for disaster-tourism-home-schooler-field-trips. I don't think I am. I want my kids to see what I saw when I was kid growing going to marches in Berkeley.

I want them to see that diverse people can and will come together to rally behind an issue they feel is important. I want them to hear the stories of people who have been affected by violence. I want them to meet the people behind the news clips. I want them exposed to political action that extends away from the ballot box. I want them to see that all of these people came together for a common cause. Black women from Missouri and Maryland and Illinois, a group of white mothers pushing strollers and carrying signs that read "Tykes and Dykes for Justice," people in wheel chairs and walkers, all joining together to support a cause.

Most of all I want them to see that on a day during a weekend when she could have asked to do anything, their mother wanted to spend her time trying to help others. I want my children to follow an example that she is providing that I otherwise would not, at least not in this way.  I want them to see that the most important things they can give to others is their time, and their presence, and their passion.

I want them to see that Mother's Day isn't just about thanking mom for what she does for the family. It's about following her lead in what she does for the community.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Review: Sing-a-long History

When I was a child my mother was steadfastly against "kids music." She hated the high pitched voices and repetition. The result is that I was raised on a combination of The Beatles and show tunes. My mother decided she'd rather hear The Sound of Music 5,000 times than anything that had been marketed to kids in the 1980s.

When I became a parent I maintained my mom's disposition towards kids music. My resolve had been strengthened by putting up with the terrible music my little brother listened to after my mother softened her stance after a decade plus of parenting. My kids have mostly grown up listening to mid-90s rock and hip hop because that's what I want to listen to.

Recently I learned about something called "Kindie Music," which is essentially indie rock for kids. I was stoked. This seemed like a great middle ground. Even though I was happy that my kids were appreciating music I liked I still had reservations about some of the themes they were being exposed to. Also, my daughter has been increasingly asking to hear Disney songs on Pandora, so I knew I had to find something else to bridge the gap between "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" and "Seven Nation Army."

So far I am still new in my forays into the genre but it's been a fun journey. I was recently offered an opportunity to review some kindie albums, which I'm very excited to be doing. Today is the first in what I hope will become a semi-regular series of kindie music reviews.

"Sing-a-long History Volume 1: Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! An Introduction to the Civil War Era for Kids" by Lloyd H. Miller

I grew up in California as a huge Civil Was buff. Moving to DC was a thrill for me because of its proximity to so many of the sites I'd read about or seen in sepia tone photographs while watching Ken Burns' Civil War documentary. When I transitioned to full time Dad status last year I started bringing the kids to as many of these sites as we could. The kids enjoyed going and listening to the ranger's tours and then running around the sites. The last day of summer before my son started kindergarten he asked if we could spend his final day of freedom at, "a battlefield or national park or something." All of this is to say that I was very excited to find Lloyd H. Miller's "Sing-a-long History Vol. 1: Glory!Glory! Hallelujah! An Introduction to the Civil War Era for Kids". I had been surfing through various kindie rock acts that had been sent to me and Lloyd's was the one that made us stop and settle in.

In the press materials Miller says he tried to give the songs, "the exciting feel of the old-timey jazz and rock and rock and roll I play at shows today." He succeeds there. The album has a nice mix of songs and styles including a goofy pseudo-hip hop number sung in the person of a dead horse named Baldy. Miller's vocal styling in some songs retains that familiar kids song flair of exaggerated tonal shifts, which is some of what I am trying to avoid in the songs I listen to with the kids, but songs like "Baldy" grow on you for the clever lyrics and catchy hooks. On "John Brown" Miller's boppy vocals manage to make the original lyrics feel that much more gruesome.

The best songs on the album are the traditional and historic texts set to music. "Follow the Drinking Gourd," "Marching through Georgia," and "O Captain! My Captain!" are wonderful pieces. "Follow the Drinking Gourd" hints at Klezmer influences, while Walt Whitman's words are arranged as a beautiful duet in "Captain."

"Marching Through Georgia" is one of the traditional Civil War era songs on the album. Miller's arrangement is light and lively with the kind of martial gravitas you'd expect at a county fair. Another Civil War song on the album, "Tenting on the Old Camp Ground" may sound familiar to fans of the Ken Burns documentary as it sounds like a soulful companion to the rousing Union tune "Battle Cry of Freedom." Miller, Chris Johnson, and Marianne Tasick provide a lovely rendition of "Tenting" that you'll likely find yourself humming the next time you go camping.

Miller bills this album as the first in a "multi volume 'musical textbook' that uses songs to introduce kids to stories from history." Small print at the bottom of the CD case advises that lesson plans and reading lists are available at Miller's website. It's a little hard to find so here's a link to the PDF. Some of the original songs on the album go from good to great when paired with more information and historical context. Enterprising parents might also take to the internet to find that "Weeksville" is about "a neighborhood founded by African American freedmen in what is now Brooklyn" (Wikipedia). "Henry Box Brown" is a story song that kids will enjoy. "Keep the Hate Mail Coming" mixes the life of abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher with modern political and media references that may require some explaining for some audiences.

The supporting materials on the website are further supplemented by Miller's Sing-a-long History podcast. The podcast is a fantastic compliment to the album. Miller talks about the history behind the songs and also gives insight into his song writing process. I listened to some of it with my kids while making dinner but had to stop in the middle. They woke up the next morning wanting to hear the rest. They were excited to discuss the parts they knew and the places they'd been, as well as to have chance to learn new information and ask new questions.

One note about the content on both the album and the podcast, I do suggest giving it a listen before you listen to it with your kids. Many parents will find nothing wrong with the content, others may want to wait to expose their kids to some of the lyrics. In the opening track Miller refers to John Brown's plot as "dumb" more times than I cared to count, which isn't terrible but for me was something I didn't necessarily want my kids to pick up and start using everyday. The album does talk about war, death, killing, shooting and other themes that are totally reasonable for a discussion of the Civil War. Miller clearly feels that kids can be exposed to these concepts without euphemism or sugar coating. Also, if you have secessionist sympathies this likely isn't the album for you. It has a Yankee/Liberal perspective and may be the only kids album to name check Dan Savage and Anita Hill (both in totally child friendly ways). The album might be better appreciated by older kids, but my four-year-old was singing "John Brown" all through bed time last night.

Sing-a-long History Vol. 1 works fine as a stand alone album. As with many sing-a-long albums it would be great for listening to on road trips, maybe on your way to visit Harpers Ferry. The album works even better as part of an integrated media package including the podcast and the lesson plans and supporting materials. Any parent interested in history will likely enjoy engaging in the materials and the album with their children. I can see stay at home parents and home schoolers getting a lot out of it. It would also make great summer time fare for parents who want to do enrichment with their kids while school is out.

With Sing-a-long History Volume 1, Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! an Introduction to the Civil War Era for Kids Miller does what he sets out do. He crafts a fun, educational album that kids will enjoy and parents won't easily tire of hearing. I'm looking forward to future releases.

You can find more of Miller's work at http://lloydhmiller.com/