In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Our favorite songbook

Dear Aunt Debbie,

Books like Good Night, Gorilla, Ten Minutes Till Bedtime or Chickens to the Rescue, with their illustrations which reward close examination, are great vacation companions.  There is something to be said for a book which can take a pleasantly long time to read.

On that note, one of the other greatest hits we’ve brought along with us is a songbook.  Getting to Know You!: Rogers and Hammerstein Favorites is a most excellent compendium of songs from, you guessed it, Rogers and Hammerstein musicals, illustrated by Rosemary Wells.  (As you can see from the Alibris link, it's out of print, but findable.)  The songs come from four shows: Oklahoma!, South Pacific, Carousel, and The King and I.  The book came from my cousin (your niece) Ona, who knows how much we love 1950s musicals.  Rogers and Hammerstein have always been particular favorites for me; they were my lullabies as a child, and I’ve sung them to Eleanor and Isabel since the day they were born, as my father sang them to me.  My mother can boast that she attended the original Broadway production of Oklahoma! in utero; I’m sure it had an effect.

In much the way that she imbued several volumes of Mother Goose rhymes with her own joyful, quirky animal spirit, Wells does a terrific job here.  “The Farmer and the Cowman” who should be friends are dancing, dressed-up buffalo; “Happy Talk” is a romance on a tropical island between two furry guinea pigs; “This Was a Real Nice Clambake” boasts dancing clams as a border around a picture of some very satisfied looking dogs.

The lyrics as represented on the pages of the book are often incomplete – there isn’t room for all three verses of “Surrey with the Fringe on Top” – but a small songbook is tucked into a pocket in the back cover.  Here, you’ll find the sheet music and complete lyrics to all the songs included in the volume.  It’s a nice way to brush up on your recollection of the tune to the bridge of “Mister Snow.”  Or, of course, you can just read the lyrics aloud, as poetry:

His name is Mister Snow
And an upstanding man is he
He comes home every night in his round-bottomed boat
With a net full of herring from the sea.

An almost-perfect beau
As refined as a girl could wish
But he spends so much time in his round-bottomed boat
That he can’t seem to lose the smell of fish.

The first time he kissed me, a whiff of his clothes
Knocked me flat on the floor of the room.
But now that I love him, my heart’s in my nose
And fish is my favorite perfume! 

Both Eleanor and Isabel are in love with this book.  Isabel calls it “Happy Talk book,” and her requests for it, at top volume, are the reason the hardcover made it into our traveling bag.  It's worth the weight.

Love, Annie


  1. This sounds like a lovely book.Thanks for linking up to Book Sharing Monday :)

  2. Just took this out of the library and am loving it. While not quite as knowledgeable as you about musical theatre as you seem to be, I actually know most of the songs, which was fun.

    What version of the audio of the songs do you recommend to accompany the book? The individual albums from each show - Oklahoma, The King and I and South Pacific for starters? Or do you have another recommendation? Thanks.

  3. @Even in Australia: I am a musical purist, and would recommend the original Broadway cast albums for all of them. How can you get better than Mary Martin as Nellie Forbush in South Pacific, or Yul Brynner as the king in The King and I?

    That being said, there have been some terrific revivals: the 1994 revival of Carousel, with Audra McDonald as Carrie Pipperidge (she's the one who sings "Mister Snow" and "When the Children are Asleep"); the 2008 revival of South Pacific (Kelli O'Hara is another great Nellie, and Paulo Szot is, in my opinion, a better Emile than Ezio Pinza was).

    The one caveat in listening to musicals, as I've mentioned in posts before, is that you end up having major discussions about murder and adultery and such quite early with your kids. The plots of Rogers and Hammerstein musicals, in particular, are complicated and adult. When I saw the revival of Carousel, I was astounded to realize that it's very much a musical about poverty and domestic violence. This isn't to say it's a bad thing to explore the world of musicals with your kids -- in some ways, it's a great way to open up touchy topics.

    More G-rated options include The Music Man, Wonderful Town, My Fair Lady, and of course the kid-friendly stuff, like Mary Poppins.

  4. Great minds think alike. A few hours ago I put NYPL holds on the 2008 South Pacific (which I saw and which was amazing) and the original King and I, as well as Mary Poppins. That took me to my NYPL hold limit so the rest are on my Amazon wish list, which is more of a reminder list for me. I think I also stuck West Side Story on there and some more recent Disney classics like Beauty and the Beast (the movie was way too scary for my kids, which I learned the hard way) and The Little Mermaid. I figured the music without the visuals and all the plot might be less scary - do you agree?

    We already own Wonderful Town, which we also saw (me and C, not the kids).