Combining Children’s Literature with Music

Combining Children’s Literature with Music: A Look Back at the 2017 NAfME National Conference

By NAfME Member Elisabeth H. DeRichmond

The original article first appeared on Elisabeth DeRichmond’s blog Musikation.

While I did attend three advocacy seminars [on day 3 of the 2017 NAfME National In-Service Conference], my favorite seminar was the fourth one: “Storybooks and Children’s Literature: Finding the Music Within,” taught by Suzanne Hall, PhD.

Suzanne Hall, Ph.D., Augusta University

And it was wonderful that it was the first seminar of my day because it energized me to take note of all the wonderful advocacy information I learned the rest of the day.

I already knew that music was interdisciplinary, but I didn’t realize the scope by which you could use literature in music. She gave us examples at various age/grade levels and explained five very basic reasons why story books can be used in the music classroom:

Music Literacy
Hall, S. (2017). Storybooks and children’s literature: Finding the music within.


So much of what she said resonated with me as it sounded so much like Paivio’s theory that Lindamood-Bell utilizes. Students are able to both learn vocabulary and comprehension of the reading material in addition to understanding how rhyme, rhythm, sounds, and composition can work in music. In addition, there are symbols and both decoding and encoding present with both reading and music. For me, this changed my thinking that not only can music reinforce literacy, but that literacy can reinforce music. This would be an excellent argument for including music in elementary education, or if it already exists, to add more or find ways to collaborate with language arts instructors.

The best part of the seminar was Hall’s reading of Giraffes Can’t Dance. She had already demonstrated what qualities made a book usable in the music classroom. this one was perfect as it talked about music. For her reading, she prepared a soundtrack including African percussion, Chopin’s “Minute Waltz,” Joan Jett and the Blackhearts’ “I Love Rock and Roll,” Isaac Albeniz’s “Latin Flamenco,” the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra’s “Tea for Two,” Jimmy Shand’s “Scottish Country Dance,” and Song from A Secret Garden. What I really loved is her incorporation of types of music played for types of dances performed by the various animals. Students could learn the words cha cha and tango not only by looking at the pictures in the story and hearing the teacher read the words, but also by experiencing the sounds associated with those types of dance.

Elementary School
Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae

Within my work at Lindamood-Bell, it is common to look up images for words students don’t understand. While most students may understand what dancing is, they may not comprehend that such dancing needs a certain type of rhythm. You can’t do the tango to Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll”!

In her last example, Hall shared a lesson that could be used with older students, or at least those who were at the level of reading chapter books. Within a chapter book, or I suppose more than one chapter book depending on the number of students, each student or group of students selects one chapter and identifies three key points within the chapter. They need to illustrate those three points and then imagine, instead of dialogue and actions, what types of sounds could the students hear? The students drew representations of those sounds and then drew a legend where they identified which instrument was represented.

Hall showed us an example of Charlotte’s Web where instruments were used to make the sound of Charlotte talking to Wilbur, Penny first meeting Wilbur, and Wilbur being seen at the fair. Students really had to comprehend what they were reading to come up with the perfect sound or instrument. Without truly understanding what a spider is and how it acts, one might choose a drum instead of a xylophone.

Music Literature
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

The whole thing fascinated me! I contacted the presenter after with my thoughts on the similarities between her seminar and Paivio’s dual coding theory, and she shared with me the complete version of her presentation, including soundtracks!

Contact me for help in finding story books to used in your music classroom, or books that can incorporate music in your language arts classroom. I would be happy to do the leg work for you and find some great examples based on what your students are currently learning!

Register today for the 2018 NAfME National Conference.

About the author:

Elisabeth H. DeRichmond, MS, has been an inquisitive thinking since she was a preteen, with a background in psychology, Spanish, and student financial aid. A self-described perpetual learner, she embraced research as a means to combine her renewed love of music and a long ago discovered passion for psychology and education. In 2012, Elisabeth learned about an emerging field in educational psychology, music cognition. Within this field, she found she could merge her devotion to learning, her advocacy for education, and her appreciation of music into one clear entity. And 2016 brought a new adventure for Elisabeth as she delved into the field of early childhood education. It is her goal, in the coming years, to return to school to pursue a doctorate degree in either Music Cognition or Neuroscience. Learn more about Elisabeth here.

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