The year was around 1994 and I was a substitute child care provider, assigned to the Jewish Community Center of St. Paul, Minnesota for a week. I think it was the 2-year-olds room. One of the days, somewhat-sleepy and obedient children suddenly became animated, dancing and smiling. The cause? They had just been invited to sing along with Raffi and his song about a “little white whale”, Baby Beluga. Amazed, I never forgot the song or the artist, Raffi. Now, I play Raffi’s songs for my daughter and still delight at the memory of when I first heard Baby Beluga.
Out of all the children’s music my daughter hears on the radio and in our van, Raffi is one of those artists who I rarely tire of hearing. Sure, I get a bit annoyed when I can’t get one of Raffi’s children’s songs out of my head…“Ba-ba-ba-banana soooong…”, anybody? At midnight when I am trying to fall asleep?… I’ll tell ya, though, I am way less annoyed than when I get some Top 40 songs in my head!
What is it about this singer and songwriter that has given him such popularity and longevity around the world? Why is it that I can hear one of Raffi’s songs, but when another singer sings the same one I am usually less interested? Perhaps it is the spirit that Raffi brings to each tune, perhaps it is Raffi’s positive and child-focused perspective. (It reminds me a little of the question of why Goodnight Moon has been so popular. See the blog Picture Book Den post and its comments section here.)
I’ve chosen to make this post an Ode to Raffi because he is such a powerful storyteller. For my love of picture books, I also have a passion for his songs that paint pictures in my mind. More importantly, Raffi paints pictures in the minds of children. Less important, but fun just the same, are the books illustrated to the lyrics of several of Raffi’s songs. As if to prove my theories of his popularity all these years, is a book Raffi edited with Sharna Olfman, Child Honouring, revealing and sharing his depth of character and his commitment to children. Raffi is also presently promoting his challenging movement of social networking reform in Lightweb Darkweb: Three Reasons to Reform Social Media Before It Reforms Us. I have yet to read it, but it is on my short list, as I am feeling increased importance as my daughter grows more and more interested in our computers and the internet.
It’s been fun for me to introduce the songs of Raffi to my daughter. At 18-months-old, [now over two-years as I revise this post], she’s not singing his lyrics yet, but she claps and smiles when “Baby Beluga” plays, and I still find myself singing along, as I did over twenty years ago.