May 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Canciones y Cuentos: Songs and Rhymes for Bilingual Storytimes | Libro por libro

1507-Libro-openerOne of the five practices of early literacy is singing, and for good reason: it helps develop phonological sensitivity, supports comprehension, and builds vocabulary. The rhythms and vocal patterns that are emphasized while singing aloud help very young children hear and play with the smaller sounds that make up words. This is true in any language, and, in fact, studies show that parents and caregivers should talk and sing to young children in the language they know best. While the youngest of learners may not always have the words to express themselves, music is a universal language that every child understands.

Lullabies, nursery rhymes, clapping songs, and lap bounces sung en español are ideal ways to introduce all children to the beauty and sheer joy of song.


PASCHKIS, Julia. Flutter & Hum: Animal Poems/Aleteo y zumbido: Poemas de animales. Holt. Aug. 2015. $17.99. ISBN 9781627791038.

PreS-K–A book of animal poetry that lends itself to numerous early literacy activities. The snake who only knows the letter “sssssssss” is a perfect entry to letter sounds. Sometimes alliteration occurs in the Spanish text, as when the deer “Ve./ Vuela./Va.” In the English translation the same phrase is expressed in rhyme: “See him/fly./Goodbye.” The text is often incorporated into the illustrations themselves, from forming part of a tortoise’s shell or found on a yellow umbrella. This book is ideal for adult/child sharing. In an author’s note, Paschkis says that although she is not a native speaker, she fell in love with Spanish after reading poems by Pablo Neruda. Her love shows, and her illustrations, created in gouache, are quite extraordinary.

MUSICAL PAIRING: Take the opportunity to share this fun tune that will help little ones play with animal sounds, “Los animales cantan.” And if you’re looking for a craft idea to finish off the program, take a look at this fairly simple “Snake Mobile.”

WOLFF, Ashley. Los pollitos dicen/The Baby Chicks Are Singing. illus. by author. Little, Brown. 2005. Board. $7.99. ISBN 9780316067324.

Baby-PreSIn English, little chicks say “cheep, cheep, cheep.” Through this book version of the classic Spanish nursery song, children learn that baby chicks also say “pio, pio, pio.” Though Wolff’s English version differs slightly from some traditional lyrics, the Spanish translation is a good way to introduce the song in a storytime setting. The simple melody stresses the first syllable in each sentence, making it a catchy tune, easy for children and adults to pick up.
MUSICAL PAIRING: Elizabeth Mitchell sings a lovely version of “Los pollitos” on You Are My Little Bird (Smithsonian Folkways). Librarians may want to help reinforce comprehension by using hand motions to act out each part. For example, while singing the “pio, pio, pio” lines, make your hand into a beak shape; when you get to the line “Cuando tienen hambre,” rub your stomach to indicate hunger.


The following tales will be popular during pajama storytimes, as part of the bedtime collection, or even at a Mother’s Day program.

LACÁMARA, Laura. Floating on Mama’s Song/Flotando en la canción de mamá. illus. by Yuyi Morales. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. 2010. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780060843687.

PreS-K–Anita’s mother sings, and as she sings, she and those around her float in the air. The metaphor will likely be lost on young readers, but they will see the magic of it in Morales’s art. Good things can’t always last forever, and when the neighbors complain, Anita’s mother stops singing. Mama’s desire to sing again is brought back by her own mother, Anita’s Abuela, through a story told in an old family photograph. So many of the stories for very early learners center around the extended family, and Anita’s family has a gift that floats through the generations and lifts them all.

MUSICAL PAIRING: The richly illustrated night sky in Morales’s book is a perfect lead-in to several rounds of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” or, en español, “Estrellita.” Spanish lyrics and an MP3 sound clip can be found at

TILLMAN, Nancy. La noche en que tú naciste. Feiwel & Friends, 2015. Board $7.99. ISBN 978125005974.

Birth-PreS–The board book version of Tillman’s On the Night You Were Born (Feiwel & Friends, 2006) makes this lovely bedtime story accessible for Spanish-speaking parents to read to their infants. A charming title, it survived the transition to the board book format and to Spanish quite admirably. One line is particularly meaningful in the context of early literacy: “El sonido de tu nombre es mágico, musical” (“The sound of your name is magic, musical”). Parents can share the music of language with their children from their very earliest days. Tillman has created lovely art, much of it bathed in nighttime blue, that will calm very young children as they lie in their parent’s arms.

MUSICAL PAIRING: Soothing melodies and charming lyrics can be found in many Latin American lullabies. Putumayo Kids’ Latin Dreamland offers 10 songs including the soothing bossa nova instrumental, “A Jardineira,” the classic Mexican lullaby “Canción de Cuna,” and a lovely version of “Cielito Lindo” from Colombia. Perfect for lulling sleepy heads into a gentle slumber, this CD would also be a calming end to a pajama storytime.

Here are a few more sweet lullabies that will warm kids’ (and grown-ups’) hearts: “Duermete mi niño” and “Arrorró Mi Niño.”


These works are longer tales that can serve as a starting point for storytelling programs. They offer great opportunity for noise-making, call and response, and all-around hijinks.

LAÍNEZ, René Colato. ¡Vámonos! Let’s Go! illus. by Joe Cepeda. Holiday House. 2015. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9780823434428.

PrS-K–The bus in this title looks like a school bus, and Laínez creates a story within the context of song. A boy and a girl get on the bus. On their ride they cross train tracks, a truck driver honks in greeting, a motorcycle vrooms by. They see and hear an ambulance, a fire truck, and a plane. But it turns out they aren’t going to school at all. The kids end up at an amusement park where they drive their own miniature cars and eat ice cream. The joy of this book is the many noises children can make, making it ideal for group participation. The Spanish and English sounds are slightly different (in English the fire truck goes “woo-ooo-ooo” and in Spanish it goes “uuuah”), which makes it perfect for bilingual storytimes. Cepeda’s oil acrylic illustrations are as appealing and fun as the song itself. There are lots of strong primary colors and the characters appear bouncy and happy.

MUSICAL PAIRING: Perfect for pre- or post-road trips or summer excursions, this title can also be paired with the Spanish version of the classic, “Wheels on the Bus.

Recommended CDs and Songs for Spanish- Language Collections

By Claire Moore & Tim Wadham



A Bailar! Let’s Dance by Whistlefritz and Jorge Anaya

Arroró mi niño by Lulu Delacré

1507-Libro-Bx-ChildrensNurseryRhymesCanciones para chicos by Maria Elena Walsh

Cantemos en Español by Susy Dorn.

Children’s Nursery Rhyme Songs in Spanish by Bilingual Beginnings

1507-Libro-Diez-Deditos_CDDe Colores and Other Latin American Folk Songs by Jose-Luis Orozco


“Los Pollitos” by Elizabeth Mitchell; Album: You Are My Little Bird

“Bailamos” by Mister G; Album: Chocolalala

“Open Shut Them (Abre, Cierra)” by Ana, Lu, Irania & Fred; Album: Criss Cross Mangosauce

“Mariposa Olé” by Dan Zanes & Barbara Brousal; Album: Catch That Train

Claire Moore is the head of children’s services at Darien Library (CT) and runs Libros y cuentos, a bilingual storytime.

NUÑO, Fran. Luces de feria. illus. by Enrique Quevedo. Cuento de Luz. 2015. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9788415784166.

PreS-K–For preschoolers ready for a delightfully odd trip to an amusement park, this Spanish language tale features a journey with a boy and his father to a park with a train that carries a mummy, Dracula, and Frankenstein’s monster along with paying guests. There is a hall of mirrors, which features reflections that will make kids wonder just who—or what—this father and son might be. The park boasts a Castle of Terror with strange, small, silent creatures. But there are also more traditional rides such as the Ferris wheel, and there is typically unhealthy carnival food as well. Quevedo’s illustrations make this trip to the fair a surreal, imagination-expanding adventure.

MUSICAL PAIRING: Perfect for Day of the Dead celebrations or Halloween storytimes, try following this ever-so-slightly creepy picture book with a round of “Los Esqueletos,” a Costa Rican children’s song about skeletons who eat rice, go to the theater, play chess, and do other funny things. A video and lyrics for several versions of the song can be found on the Spanish Playground website.

KRALJIC, Helen. El cuento del lobo. illus. by Anna Laura Cantone. Picarona. 2014. Tr $21.95 ISBN 9788416117000.

PreS-K–As toddlers grow into preschoolers, the predictable structure of many folk and fairy tales is ideal for strengthening their narrative skills. In the spirit of Jon Scieszka’s The True Story of the Three Little Pigs (Viking, 1989), this take on the Big Bad Wolf shows that he is actually a really nice, kind, and helpful wolf. He helps pigs get a ball down from a tree and rescues a lamb from a fox. At the end, he expresses his frustration at still being stereotyped as the bad guy even after all of his good deeds. The stylized illustrations, a mainstay of European picture books, may look unusual to American children, but they are great fun. The characters are drawn with distinctive long noses and big, silly grins. This book can be combined with the more traditional story of “The Three Little Pigs.”

MUSICAL PAIRING: The incomparable Maria Elena Walsh’s “El reino al revés” would make a fun choice for this topsy-turvy tale.

LOZANO, José. Little Chanclas. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781935955856; pap $7.95. ISBN 9781935955863.

PreS-K–Little Chanclas is an amusing family story about Lily, a girl who has a very noisy pair of sandals. Everywhere she goes she makes a flip-flop noise. Lily doesn’t care for any footwear other than chanclas, despite her mother’s repeated attempts to encourage her to diversify. Lily wears them to school, celebrations, and festivals. But eventually, they fall apart. Losing her chanclas of course makes Lily cranky. And mother lays down the law: no shoes, no school, friends, or parties. Just when you think that Lily is going to have to go the way of sneakers, her grandmother arrives with a stack of boxes, all containing flips-flops in different colors. Eventually, when she begins to play soccer, Lily graduates from chanclas to cleats, much to her mother’s relief. Lozano’s illustrations reflect a very Mexican sensibility, and by extension, a very genuine expression of the Latino cultural experience.

MUSICAL PAIRING: “Dos Manitas, Diez Deditos” is a song about fingers (and toes) that reinforces counting skills and it’s a fine activity to follow Little Chanclas. This video features an educator from the Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy demonstrating how to teach the song to children. Lyrics can be found at

Tim Wadham ( is a library administrator and the author of Wordplay for Kids (ALA Editions, 2015).

This article was published in School Library Journal's July 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Tim Wadham About Tim Wadham

Tim Wadham ( is a library administrator and the author of Wordplay for Kids (ALA Editions, 2015).

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