Have you worn out your favorite Christmas albums yet? This is the point in the season for me when the old standards start to feel a bit stale and we’re ready for something fresh, something new. And so I thought I would share a few of our favorites with you in the hope that you might find a new song or two to enjoy.
And while we don’t love every song on this last album, the ones we do love are excellent—perhaps our favorite versions of our favorite Christmas hymns. They’re perfect for epic Christmas kitchen dance parties:
Did you know that the Christmas issue of Wildflowersis available? Also, Wildflowers now offers two different kinds of subscriptions, so whichever one you choose, you’ll find each season’s issue waiting for you in your mailbox. Huzzah!
In other news: I got to take a stab at illustrating for this issue, and it was so much fun, I’m coming back next year as a full-time illustrator!
My mom favored folk singers; my dad introduced me to everyone from Louis Armstrong to Michael Jackson to Nirvana. By the time I held my first guitar, I had a wealth of influences to draw on and didn’t have to wonder what made a good song good—I knew what to listen for. That I would write my own songs seemed inevitable.
I want to give my own daughters that same sort of creative foundation, but with one alteration: I want them to know the classics, but I want to introduce them, first, to artists who tuck the gospel into their music, who inscribe on their lyrics and compositions Bach’s inscription, “Soli Deo Gloria.” Glory to God alone.
At home we listen to everything from Billie Holiday to the Black Keys, but in our minivan I have a captive audience, and so I curate our travelling collection in the same way I curate our home library: the songs we hear while buckled up together are the ones whose lyrics will take root in our daughters’ young hearts, the ones that become part of our family’s collective memory. I want them to be good songs, creative songs that nourish our souls. I put a lot of thought into which albums make it into the van, and while not all of the artists in our collection are exclusively (or overtly) Christian, most of them are.
We listen to Liz Vice (her music is one of my favorite discoveries of the past year) and Josh Garrels. We listen to JJ Heller, of course, and 16 Horsepower, an old favorite from before we married. The Gray Havens captured the girls’ imaginations with their story-songs, and the music of Ordinary Time has been with us through all manner of seasons. (It goes without saying that Slugs & Bugs and Songs for Saplings are in heavy rotation, too!)
Not every song on this list has made it into the van yet—some are still waiting on my Amazon wishlist for their moment to come. But they are all good songs, by artists who use their gifts to tell again the story of who God is and what he has done, and to tell it in fresh and creative ways.
“The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.”
Two weeks ago, Caspar Babypants came to town, so we gathered our two eldest daughters up and went to see him play. His show was part of a family fair hosted in our town’s sports complex, an event that boasted bouncy houses! Rock walls! Face painting! And so many other fun things for rowdy, outgoing kids!
Our girls wanted none of it. We are apparently succeeding at turning our children into pint-sized versions of me, because the bouncy houses—those bastions of fun for kids of all ages—made them turn pale and cower behind us, while the mere presence of a crowd of children—their peers, their compatriots—made them tighten their grip on our hands and tremble. They have no more love for large crowds and loud gatherings than I do, which led us to conclude, quite naturally, that we all need to get out more.
But though they declined the rock wall, the bouncy houses, and the craft table, the girls did consent to go see Barbara Jean Hicks, author of one of my favorite children’s books, The Secret Life of Walter Kitty, whom they adored and whose book, A Sister More Like Me, was one of their favorite take-aways of the whole day. And they definitely came out of their shell when Caspar Babypants—who, contrary to the belief of one of our children, is not fictional character at all but a real person—kicked off his set with “My Flea Has Dogs.”
That day at the sportsplex, plus my two previous music-centric posts, inspired me to put together another playlist for you, this one featuring some of our favorite children’s music. These are all artists that sound again and again (and again) in our home and in our car, fueling dance parties and sing-alongs in which we all five participate because—and this is the important part—we all enjoy their songs.
For sweet and lovely lullabies, there’s JJ Heller. For pure silliness, there’s Caspar Babypants. For a perfect mix of both silliness and sweetness—Charlie Hope. There’s Dana Dirksen of Songs for Saplings (but I mentioned her earlier), and the fun and bluesy tunes of Johnny Bregar. And there are a few other favorite songs on the list, just because I thought you’d like them.
(Having listened to Caspar Babypants, tell me: does his voice sound familiar? No? Okay, then, what if you imagined him singing “Peaches“? Yes. It’s Chris Ballew of The Presidents of the United States of America, doing what he was always meant to do.)
The new issue of Deeply Rooted is here! And inside it, you’ll find a little something special:
If you remember how much I admire JJ Heller, then you can guess how thrilled I was to have the opportunity to interview her for Deeply Rooted, but in case you’ve forgotten, know this: I did at least one happy dance when I got the assignment. And as much fun as the article was to work on, it’s just a tiny piece of the overall loveliness of this autumn issue, which tackles subjects like grief, gratitude, the exclusivity of Christ, and how we as busy moms can serve those outside our families. Also, there’s a recipe for a kale and sausage casserole. I made it for dinner on Saturday, and the casserole was delicious.
This time last year, I was nearly thirty, newly pregnant, and too queasy to eat my own birthday cake. We went to my favorite bakery, where the cakes have names like “Chocolate Bliss” and “Lemon Cloud,” but my stomach protested against anything more complex than a cup of vanilla gelato.
When we went to dinner with my mom to celebrate our almost-shared birthdays, my mom apologized to the chef for returning my plate, scarcely touched, and assured him that it was nothing personal—“She’s pregnant,” she said, nodding knowingly. The restaurant was small and situated in a garden; jewel-like pies lined the counters of the kitchen. I had looked forward to eating there for months.
“What I could eat was so good!” I called after him. It really was. I think it was about half of a chicken, roasted and golden. There may have been poached eggs and asparagus involved, but I can’t be sure.
This year, my friends, I want a do-over.
I spent weeks dreaming up my own birthday cake, sketching schematics of the four-layer beauty and baking rough draft batches of batter—just to make sure, you know, that dark chocolate stout cake is a good idea (it is), and that it tastes okay with caramel and ganache-topped frosting (it does). I would like to go to that restaurant again and send an empty plate back to the kitchen, with my compliments to the chef.
And I would like to tell you about a sweet-as-caramel-cake book just released by two of my favorite artists, David and JJ Heller.
I know, that was a terrible transition. But sometimes, you do what you have to do, and when it’s (the day before) your birthday, you demand a little extra grace.
JJ Heller is known for her music, really—this is her first children’s book—so we’ll talk about that first. I tend to be a little wary of Christian music, because so much of what I have heard sounds written to sell what shouldn’t be sold, but David and JJ Heller have a wonderful dynamic: sincere, personal, well-written songs, sung simply and released on albums that the Hellers fund themselves, typically from the earnings of the previous album.* I have a lot of respect for artists who work that way, because you know they’re producing music that they are passionate about, not stuff that is designed to reach a certain market.
Oh, and they make music videos in their dining room:
That same passion and integrity shows up in their new book, The Golden Feather. They funded it with a Kickstarter campaign and oversaw the process of publication themselves, so the finished product is very much theirs: creative, beautifully illustrated by Luke Flowers and an absolute joy to read. The Hellers released it as a companion to their upcoming album of lullabies, I Dream of You, which you can pre-order through their website.
The story line of The Golden Feather is simple but imaginative, and Sarah was immediately caught up in this bedtime tale of a little girl just her size. When we discovered that there are bunnies hidden in the illustrations (one on every page!), it was hard to peel her away from the book when her bedtime rolled around. Now she “reads” it to us, asking at the end of each page, “Where’s the bunny? Do you see it?”
It has also proven effective in boosting morale after bicycle-related incidents:
The Golden Feather is a lovely book, yes—sweet in all the right ways (like caramel!)—but it’s also a project by people whose work is worth supporting. To learn more, you can visit their website and watch the adorable video of their daughter, Lucy, narrating The Golden Feather, or you can order a copy of the book or their new album of lullabies for little ones, I Dream of You. And if you find yourself having the sort of day where you should be eating cake but are instead stuck with good old vanilla gelato, then I suggest that you listen to JJ Heller’s album, Deeper. That one always makes me feel better.
*I remember reading about this in a post that David Heller wrote for their blog. When I went back to find that post so I could link to it, I couldn’t find their blog at all. But, for the record, that’s where I got my information.
I got to interview JJ Heller for the Fall 2014 issue of Deeply Rooted magazine! You can learn more about that here or order a copy of that issue here.
Hi, I'm Théa! I review classic literature, poetry, nonfiction, fantasy, picture books—children's books luminous with grace and beauty. These are books our family loved and that I think you'll love too. Thanks for stopping by!
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