Search on ....
Subscribe to SLJ
100 Scope Notes
Inside 100 Scope Notes

Authors: Sorry I Butchered Your Song

Drawing Authors: Sorry I Butchered Your Song

I don’t have what you’d call a good singing voice. I don’t mind flexing the tin pipes in front of kids at all, but not all story time singing is created equal.

As I see it, there are three different kinds of songs you will encounter in children’s books. Here they are, ranked by the level of fear they induce.

The Straight-Up Song. Fear Level: Low

This is when a well-known song appears in a book with few or no changes. You know exactly what to do. You know the tune and so do the kids. Most of the words are the same. It’s sing-along time.

Example: Twinkle Twinkle Little Star by Jerry Pinkney

The Song with New Lyrics. Fear Level: Medium

This is when a well-known song is given new lyrics. You know the tune and so do the kids, but it’s slightly more difficult to  sing along because the words are different. Time to take more of the center stage.

Example: Old Mikamba Had a Farm by Rachel Isadora

The No Context Song. Fear Level: High

This is when a song appears with no guidelines on how to sing it. We’ve all seen it. In this case, it’s rare that the song makes up the entirety of the book. The story will say something like, “and she even made up a song”, followed by a few rhyming lines. Time to get creative.

Example: The Bunny’s Night Light by Geoffrey Hayes

In these situations I envision the author walking past the door.

“What’s that awful sound?” I imagine the author saying before walking into the room to realize it’s his masterpiece being slaughtered.

“I don’t have what you’d call a good singing voice”, I reply.

“Tin pipes?”

“Tin pipes.”

share save 171 16 Authors: Sorry I Butchered Your Song
About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. Jen says:

    That’s how I feel when I read Lord of the Rings or Redwall books. The characters are constantly bursting into song, and some of them cum wiv accen’s, burr aye!

  2. Ha! I hit this when reading aloud Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and other books too! I think the kids are the only people I sing in front of. Absolutely the only ones!

  3. Ha! I was listening to a novel audiobook the other day, and the text had the narrator singing a made-up song. The poor performer had no beat or tune–not sure whether that was on purpose or not! I wrote a set of 8 Science Songs for Capstone that fall into your Medium Fear Category. I was glad they had audio files online so teachers could play them for the class while singing along.

  4. Ed Spicer says:

    I sing everything whether I should or not.

  5. Sam Bloom says:

    And I’m with Ed! Seriously, you’d get over your fear very quickly if you did storytime in a public library. I not only sing – badly – I also dance regularly in front of crowds of 75+ people. Oh, the humanity.

  6. Ed Spicer says:

    Travis please add a “like” button just for Sam’s post. Embrace the badness!

  7. Vicki Kouchnerkavich says:

    Attn: authors. If you put a “singing” sequence in your book, please include a CD or link to a Youtube video so the read-out-loud people can properly convey your song.

  8. Love this post, Travis! Immediately makes me think of the song Kansas sings in Scrambled States of America. It’s one the kids always insist I sing (because it exists right there in the middle of the page) and one that I somehow manage to change each and every time. Although, to her credit, Keller’s song seems to have brought out the best in my twang ;P

Speak Your Mind