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Review of Wee Sing America

Let Freedom Sing!

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A review of Wee Sing America

By Debra Ross

Having fastened the enemy into her car seat in the back, you hop behind the wheel, mentally steeling yourself for the onslaught. Their weapon of choice today: The dreaded "animal songs" tape. "Animal songs! Yeah! We want animal songs! Pleeeeeeeeease!"

The civilized part of your brain immediately recoils. Your riposte is, you regret, not very creative. "Oh come on, kids, not again! We just had animal songs yesterday! Wouldn't you prefer some Mix 100.5? Or Fickle 93? Or Jazz 90.1?"

Now, of course you know how good music is for children, how they need to hear songs they can sing, and (gulp) how important it is for you to sing with them, enthusiastically and with expression in your voice, even if you're as tone deaf as I am.

So you capitulate. The victors in the back seat, oblivious even to the existence of the Music War in which they have won yet another battle, break into a chorus of "The bear went over the mountain." And you join them, because you're the mom, and you've lost the battle, not your duty.

But -- good news! -- you haven't lost the war: The cavalry has arrived! I have found the perfect album that will excite your children's imaginations, incite them to sing, and provide a healthy dose of cultural literacy. And, believe it or not, you want to hear these songs too.

The album is called Wee Sing America. It is a compilation of wonderful songs about the United States, plus classic folk songs that were sung by the people who made this country. It is sung mostly by children, which tends to resonate well with kids, with some rich adult voices that round out the various tunes. Interspersed within some of the patriotic songs are quotations from great Americans such as Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln. What parent doesn't swell with pride to hear her 5-year-old recite by heart:

    On the statue of liberty are these words:

    Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free:
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Wee Sing America, together with the book that accompanies it, was an instant hit in our house. In fact, within one month after we first popped that tape in our car stereo, we had played it so much that it warped. (I contacted the Wee Sing folks about this, and it was promptly replaced...I understand that this is in accordance with their high standards of customer service.) We now have the CD and, at least a year later, it is still our constant companion on trips short and long.

In addition to the traditional songs, Wee Sing America also has a wonderful, catchy, original song that is basically a listing of the 50 states. If you don't know the 50 states yourself (and who does?), I guarantee you that both you and your kids will have them embedded in your mind, Alabama through Wyoming, before too long.

One nice feature of Wee Sing America is that the patriotic tunes include second, third, and even fourth verses...I had always known that there were four verses to "America" ("My country 'tis of thee") but had only heard them once or twice. Now, the whole family can sing them word for word. The album also includes some songs that I'd never heard, but had heard about, like "Sweet Betsy from Pike" and "Pick a Bale O' Cotton."

I had only one quibble with their choice of song ordering, and that was that they placed "Goober Peas," a silly song about how Confederate troops ate peanuts, right after "When Johnny Comes Marching Home." The whole point was that Johnny was never going to come marching home after the Civil War; he was dead. "Johnny" is beautifully done on the album, enough that it clutches my heart each time I hear it. And each time, it is jarring to be launched right into "Goober Peas" afterward. On the other hand, this comment is my harshest criticism of this album (ok, and I also do not understand the "Old Settler's Song"), which should indicate how great it really is.

Not only is Wee Sing America great, it's also nothing new: It was originally produced in 1987. Fortunately, it's still in print by Wee Sing, and readily available to the listening public by clicking through to their web site (and for resale at a wide variety of web sites and stores). The current price for the book + CD is $11.99, which in my opinion is a real bargain. Their site links to Amazon.com for ordering, so it is possible that the price you pay may be somewhat lower (and here is a link to a Froogle search for prices). Clicking on the link we have provided also gives you the opportunity to hear some of the tracks from the album, and that's always fun. It has made a great gift for us; twice, parents have contacted me a month or two after we gave it as a gift, with their thanks.

Wee Sing was started in the 1980s by Pam Beall and Susan Nipp, former music teachers who still run the company. The company has since expanded to produce 19 albums, six board books, and nine DVDs. We have the Wee Sing Sillyville DVD and although the kids really like it, it's too silly for me to appreciate. Then again, my kids remind me that their boring mom is 36, and the point isn't that I should watch it. They're proprietary.

Wee Sing America is very special to Pam and Susan. In fact, they had their own children sing on that album, so it is a great source of pride to them. As Pam explained in an email to me: "Wee Sing America was a natural for us because so much of our country's heritage has been expressed through song. We felt it important for children to understand this heritage and experience pride in their country as they listen to the wonderful patriotic songs as well as those that tell about the building of our country."

And in a post-9/11 world, I suspect that I would be hard-pressed to find an American who disagrees.

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© 2005, Debra Ross

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