Canadian composer and songster Raffi started winning over the hearts of children and their parents in the 1970s, with live performances and recordings of his buoyant, impossible-to-get-out-of-your-head songs. Think (and start to hum at your own risk) Baby Beluga, Wheels on the Bus, and Down by the Bay. In the late ’80s, Knopf began publishing hardcover and trade paperback picture books featuring Raffi’s lyrics, and issued board-book editions of some of the titles a decade later. Last June, the publisher launched a new crop of Raffi board books with Shake My Sillies Out, illustrated by Maple Lam. This year’s releases include three books that have never appeared in board-book format, beginning with Everything Grows, illustrated by Nina Mata, scheduled for April release (to coincide with Earth Day). Raffi’s Rise and Shine, illustrated by Sydney Hanson, will follow in May; and Thanks a Lot, with art by Jaime Kim, is due in September. PW spoke with Raffi about his new wave of board books, and about the Raffi Foundation for Child Honouring, which is dedicated to creating a humane and sustainable world by addressing the universal needs of children.
During your decades of performing for children, what have you discovered about the benefits of reading and singing to kids?
For very young children, singing offers fun, learning, and a way to connect with others. And reading to preschoolers is vitally important, not only as a bonding experience with parents and caregivers, but also to engage the mind’s theater of imagination while having a warm experience with printed words and artful illustrations. Reading and singing are valuable forms of early learning.
Are you pleased to bring the messages of your songs to yet another generation of preschoolers through this new board-book series?
Yes, it is so gratifying to know that my songs are used to connect young kids with reading at an early age. In a magical way, the familiarity of internalized song lyrics acts as a bridge to the printed words, which makes me smile.
And all these books are printed on chlorine-free, post-consumer recycled materials, which is something I’m very proud of. We have a responsibility to choose sustainable means of producing things whenever possible, and it is almost always possible.
How do Nina Mata’s illustrations for the board book edition of Everything Grows capture the spirit and gist of your song?
Nina’s illustrations beautifully express the spirit of Everything Grows in the joyful context of a garden. The garden is a perfect metaphor for the growth that we all experience in life. We depend on the food we grow, so we cultivate a healthy soil environment in which seeds can flourish when kissed by sun and rain. And I’m thrilled to see the diversity of people in this book, reflecting the diversity in our communities.
How does the message of Everything Grows and your other songs and books tie into the Raffi Foundation for Child Honouring’s mission?
Diversity is a key principle of my Child Honouring philosophy. Similarly, each one of us grows from infancy through developmental stages that rely on respectful love, caring community, and safe environments, which are all Child Honouring principles. It’s fun to remember that our human diversity is part of nature’s biodiversity, and that we are all interconnected.
My career as a children’s troubadour and my music have been built on a core concept: respect for the child as a whole person. My foundation’s mission is to educate people about Child Honouring as a universal ethic. We offer an engaging online course on the Covenant for Honouring Children and its nine principles, which connect person, culture, and planet in a unique way. My songs have always had a Child Honouring spirit. My foundation builds on that spirit and inspires change makers—people devoted to creating a sustainable world fit for children. Our slogan says it all: “Respecting Earth and Child.”
Everything Grows by Raffi, illus. by Nina Mata. Knopf, $7.99 Apr. ISBN 978-0-593-17265-0