Themed Gift Guide: Books and Music

FrogTroubleLast in our themed Gift Guides, today we’re rounding up our favorite gender-fair books and music. Check out our other themed Gift Guides — STEM toys and games. All of these posts include links to lengthier articles we’ve written previously about a topic, so if you need more information or ideas, check those out as well (linked throughout).

When we talk about books, we generally include them in the Book Review series. Today we’re going to discuss the often-seasonal Jan Brett books. Jan Brett’s books are characterized by her striking illustrations. If you’ve seen one of her books before, you know the work. The signature element of Brett’s illustration actually is not what is happening inside the pictures on each page, but what is happening around them in the borders and sidebars. These borders are not purely decorative – they generally foreshadow impending events in the book or tell a parallel story. In The Mitten, a child drops a mitten in the woods and does not notice. Various animals take up in the mitten throughout the story. In the borders of the illustrations, the child continues his walk, unaware of the silliness happening on the page, or with his mitten!

Brett’s borders and sidebars keep young children’s attention to the story. They teach an important lesson about theory of mind – the psychological term that refers to the understanding that my thoughts, and what I know, are different than your thoughts, and what you know. Brett’s books also teach about elements of story-telling by scaffolding the order of story events. The story still plays out in a linear fashion, easy and predictable for young minds, but with the introduction of early hints about what will happen, that children pick up on and begin to use themselves. Brett’s use of these elements is a sort of visual foreshadowing, a literary device most authors don’t work into children’s books until written foreshadowing is possible – something often requiring a story length more appropriate to chapter books.

Town Mouse, Country Mouse and The Mitten are two of my favorites. Trouble with Trolls also comes highly recommended. Jan Brett has many more, however, and you can find a selection in Fair Play’s Amazon store.

Let’s shift gears and talk about music. The honest truth about children’s music is that some of it is incredibly annoying. We try only to recommend children’s music that grownups have a hope of tolerating as well. Our favorite is Muppets: The Green Album. We originally bought The Green Album as a third birthday gift for the Fair Play Twins. We also bought a copy for ourselves…and we listen to it all the time, even at the office. The Green Album is a remake of the Muppets songs done by famous (mostly) indie and rock bands. For children, it’s a fun album for singalongs. For grown-ups, it’s a) tolerably well-sung and b) a delightful trip down memory lane, with familiar tunes given a more sophisticated sound.

In a similar vein, Frog Trouble is a compilation of children’s songs sung by famous country and bluegrass singers. It has a wonderfully grown-up sound paired with family-friendly lyrics. Sandra Boynton has achieved the careful balance critical to successful children’s music, with lyrics no one will blink at and great music everyone can actually enjoy. Frog Trouble is a great foray into country and bluegrass for your little ones. We also love that it comes with a charming singalong book.


We also enjoy Jessie Modic’s charming folk albums. Her albums combine storytelling and song with lessons about music instruments, rhythm, scale, and theory. They feature male and female lead characters fairly equally, interchangeably in traditionally masculine and feminine roles.

One mode of play we did not summarize in these themed guides (so much to do!) is pretend or make-believe play. Check out our tagged posts on that theme if that’s the direction you want to go.

Gift Guide is a series in which we respond to YOUR requests for reviews for books, toys, movies, or anything else you can think of, for gift-giving or otherwise. In the remaining days until Christmas 2013, we’ll be posting similar thematic posts that round up various gift options. As always, you can find most of our recommendations in our Amazon Storefront. Looking for something in particular? Leave us a note on our Facebook page or on our website at Request a Review and we’ll write you a post in response!

What do you think? Leave a comment!