As I've mentioned before, I don't feel confident that I'm seeing absolutely everything out there in kids' music, books, etc., these days, not like I did (or thought I did, anyway) when I was covering this beat for a national magazine. So a traditional "top 10" list for the year in each category seems presumptuous—I'm sure there's a ton of great stuff that came out in 2010 that I missed entirely.
So instead, I'm just going to humbly put forward a few posts of the best kids' entertainment I've seen this year. Most of it will be items I've covered previously in this blog, but a few will be stragglers I never got around to, or am still hoping to get to, if they came out recently.
I'll start with music, the easiest category for me to tackle because I've sort of done it already, as a voter in the annual Fids & Kamily Awards. I won't just reproduce my ballot here, though—the cutoff dates for that voting ended at October 2010 releases, and my best-of-what-I've-heard includes some stuff that came out after that date.
So here, in no particular order, are the kids' music CDs our family discovered this year that never seem to go out of rotation.
Underground Playground, Secret Agent 23 Skidoo. I've raved about Skidoo on multiple occasions already in this space, but I'm still blown away that anyone could manage to make hip-hop for children, well, listenable at all. And Skidoo's sophomore output (as his debut was) is far more than that; with his old-school beats and smart, sharp rhymes, he puts a smile on your face and a bounce in your kid's steps. And the other way around, too.
Mind of My Own, Frances England. She's the other artist I couldn't stop talking about this year, and her third album lived up to her first two. You know how, with a really good album by an artist you like, you gravitate toward certain songs on the first several listens, but then toward different ones after a few more, obsessing over each group in turn until nearly every track has been your "favorite"? This is that kind of album, for kids and parents alike.
The Final Funktier, Recess Monkey. This is undeniably a goofy CD, and in kids' music a little of that goes a long way, especially for parents. The difference with the prolific Recess Monkey that these guys are really good, as both songwriters and musicians. Their songs could hardly be catchier, and when you find yourself humming them to yourself at the office, you're not horrified like you are when the tune is "Elmo's World" or the map song from Dora. You just laugh at yourself for a moment—and then keep on humming.
Sunny Day, Elizabeth Mitchell. The most soothing voice in kids' music today is, not surprisingly, responsible for the standout "cool-down" album of the year. What is surprising—though really, given her previous track record, it shouldn't be—is her ability to preserve that warm, calm vibe through songs well beyond the comfort zone of the folk-acoustic genre. This CD can be the answer to a parent's craziest morning.
Original Friend, Lunch Money. I'm still planning a full writeup of this South Carolina trio's excellent third album, but suffice it to say for now that it hasn't emerged from the CD changer since we acquired it. With a sound that would fit right in on any indie or college radio station, and smart, smooth, irresistibly likeable vocals by guitarist Molly Ledford, Lunch Money is another of those special bands producing songs kids love that parents can often forget is kids' music.
Many Hands: Family Music for Haiti,various artists. This CD to benefit victims of the Haitian earthquake contains tracks by every single one of the artists I've just mentioned, as well as much of the rest of the genre's top talent, from Pete Seeger to Jonathan Coulton to They Might Be Giants to Gustafer Yellowgold to Dan Zanes...the list really does go on and on. Far and away the best kids' music compilation I've ever encountered, it's the perfect way to find out which of today's kids' musicians might be your children's (and your) favorites, and of course it serves a most worthy cause.
[Images, from top: courtesy of Secret Agent 23 Skidoo; courtesy of Frances England; Kevin Fry/courtesy of Recess Monkey; courtesy of Elizabeth Mitchell; Brandon Reese/courtesy of Lunch Moneycourtesy of Spare the Rock Records]