I received an email from a preschool choir director recently asking if I had any recommendations of books that could be sung that she could use in rehearsal.
You know the ones: books that either have lyrics to a familiar children’s song or hymn, or stories with text that can be sung to a familiar tune, like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”
There are lots and lots of children’s books out there, and a few helpful lists of books that can be sung or chanted (see here, here, here, and here, for instance). But books that can be used in a church setting? With a children’s choir? Those are a little harder to find.
If it were me, I wouldn’t limit myself to only books that are based on Bible stories or hymns. In addition to books with a spiritual focus, I would choose books with a good story, beautiful illustrations, and some musical element I wanted to share with my choir - a song, chant, movement, or musical concept like dynamics or high vs. low or form - and books that tie in with my overall theme for the year.
You’ve heard me say it before, but I recommend organizing your choir year with an overarching theme - something that can inform your planning and music choices and also foster spiritual growth in your young singers throughout the year. Then, use stories, songs, and books to bring it to life, to make it relevant to the children in your choir, and to make it memorable.
In this post, I’m sharing three theme ideas for your choir year, plus a list of books that I think tie in well that you can sing or chant with your choir in rehearsal.
P.S. Some books on this list would make great Christmas presents for the little people in your life!
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“All Creatures Great and Small” Theme
This is a fun, playful theme for your choir year, based on animals. There are so many possibilities here! Below are some animal-themed stories and songs that I think tie in well (click the book covers for direct links):
The Cat Goes Fiddle-i-fee - a great cumulative song, this books features lots of opportunities for vocal exploration as children chime in with the sounds the animals make.
The Carnival of the Animals - an illustrated version of Camille Saint-Saens’ musical suite, including a CD for listening along.
All Creatures Great and Small - a perfect book to accompany this theme, featuring the lyrics of “All Things Bright and Beautiful."
Walking Through the Jungle - a jungle-themed adventure, including rhymes, repetition, and lots of animal sounds.
The Gifts They Gave - a sweet, illustrated version of the Christmas Hymn, “The Friendly Beasts,” including a verse for each animal in the stable that night and the gifts they gave the Christ Child.
Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? - a classic Eric Carle book with beautiful animal illustrations, this book invites children to explore their voices by imitating the sounds of the animals in the zoo.
All Things Bright and Beautiful - another illustrated version of the hymn, "All Things Bright and Beautiful.” Consider having the children learn the chorus so they can sing along with you.
All Things Bright and Beautiful - a third illustrated version of the hymn, “All Things Bright and Beautiful.” Choose the book that has your favorite illustrations!
If You’re Happy and You Know It: Jungle Edition - a jungle animal-themed version of the well-known children’s song, "If You’re Happy and You Know It."
“Ways to Praise” Theme
This year-long theme can be broken down into several smaller categories: dance, sing, play, move, pray, love, etc. There is so much music, movement, and art embedded in this theme! Here are some books that touch on these things:
Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin - a whimsical exploration of classical music and the various instruments that make up the orchestra.
Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! Whomp!: A Sonic Adventure - written by Wynton Marsalis, this book is an exploration of everyday sounds in the neighborhood and how sounds turn into music. Consider incorporating some instruments and sounds from household objects or things you have in your rehearsal space to help bring the story to life.
Sing (Amazing Me!) - Part of the Amazing Me! series, this book celebrates our singing voices. Perfect for the young singers in choir!
Dance (Amazing Me!) - Part of the Amazing Me! series, this book focuses on our ability to dance and move. A great way to incorporate some structured movement in your rehearsal one week!
Music (Amazing Me!) - Part of the Amazing Me! series, this book celebrates the gift of music in our lives.
This Jazz Man - a fun book exploring the sights and sounds of jazz. Sung to the tune, "This Old Man."
M is for Melody - featuring instruments, composers, musical terms, and even various styles of music, organized from A to Z with lyrical rhymes and playful illustrations.
Silent Night - a perfect book to use in December, featuring the traditional text of "Silent Night.”
If You’re Happy and You Know It - this book features the traditional text of this children’s song with accompanying pictures.
These books can’t necessarily be sung or chanted, but they feature stories and verses from Scripture and I think they would tie in well with this theme:
“He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” Theme
In this theme, the focus is on creation and God’s love for us and the world. Here are some songs and books that you might use to help bring this theme to life:
He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands - an illustrated version of the song, this book can be sung instead of read.
He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands - another illustrated version of this song. This book includes sheet music!
Let It Shine: Three Favorite Spirituals - this book includes three familiar spirituals: This Little Light of Mine, When the Saints, and He’s Got the Whole World.
Jesus Loves Me - an illustrated version of this familiar children’s hymn.
Jesus Loves Me - another version of this song, presented in sing-along form. Sheet music included!
Jesus Loves the Little Children - a board-book-version of this song, featuring beautiful illustrations.
Jesus Loves the Little Children - a colorful depiction of the traditional children’s song. Includes sheet music!
This Little Light of Mine - another book that can be sung, featuring the well-known lyrics of this African American spiritual and captivating illustrations to accompany each line.
This Little Light of Mine: A Collection of Joyful Songs - this collection features several well-known hymns and children’s songs, several of which would work well this theme. Contents include: All Things Bright and Beautiful, I see the Moon, Lord, Keep Us Safe This Night, The Animals Went in Two by Two, Jesus Loves Me, If You're Happy and You Know It, The Wise Man Built His House, He's Got the Whole World in His Hands, This Little Light of Mine, and Now the Day is Over.
For the Beauty of the Earth - a beautifully-illustrated version of this nature hymn.
What a Wonderful World - a Louis Armstrong classic, featuring the lyrics and beautiful illustrations to accompany each line.
Again, this book isn’t meant to be sung or chanted, but it tells an important Bible story that I think fits well with this theme:
Do you use books in your children’s choir rehearsals? What are your favorite books to sing and chant?