Karen K breaks ground with The Blue Bike Chronicles


You know, you become an artist, you become an observer of life,
and you digest life by making art about it. – Liz Phair

Life inspires art. And it’s pretty cool to witness the inspirational evolution of a musical artist especially when it fills a gap in the world’s musical jukebox. Boston singer-songwriter Karen Kalafatas, leader of Karen K & the Jitterbugs, is branching into solo territory and breaking ground with her new series The Blue Bike Chronicles, inspired by her daughter, Becca, and vivid memories of her own childhood.

Still working in parallel with the Jitterbugs, Kalafatas is journeying into new creative turf as she witnesses and processes the shifts in her 8-year-old daughter, the changes she needs to make as a parent to an older child, and the mirror that reflects her own 8-year-old self.

The kids’ music genre is expanding to include a broader range of ages. But still there aren’t many songs with lyrics that ring true to the experiences and emotions of the “in-betweener” age. This pre-tween 7 to 9-year-old crew is making a major leap from early childhood to, well, middle childhood. They’re straddling the space between the safety and comfort of cuddling up with mom and dad and the instinct to break free and take life by the reins. Through The Blue Bike Chronicles, Kalafatas boldly directs her artistry toward crafting songs that speak to and nurture this magical in-between stage.

There’s so much heart in this series; accompanying the songs is a short story, vulnerable and real – Kalafatas’ nostalgic recollection of a bittersweet childhood moment that begins with “Lucy had a blue bike.” The story transports you to that innocent age when what matters most is your best friend. Friendships forge lasting memories, and moving away from your best friend is one of the worst things that can ever happen. Kalafatas poignantly reinforces how young minds connect emotionally with the world.

We spent nearly all of our time together – playing spy in the grassy field near the middle of the [Army] Base; reading books with our backs on the cold ground, knees up, and our faces to the sky; buying candy from the Candy Man with our hard-earned spare change (think ice cream truck, only candy); and riding our bikes.

“As it happens with moves, nothing was running on schedule. And if we were going to make our plane back to the States, we had to leave. Without a goodbye. Without Lucy.

…I was heartbroken.”

The story beautifully sets the backdrop for The Blue Bike Chronicles and the gentle weaving of perspectives from childhood to parenthood and back again.

My daughter is eight now, the same age I was when I met Lucy. She is full of wonder and joy and amusement, and sometimes sorrow and pain. And in her presence I am reminded that we, as parents, as adults, as humans big and small…we are all on a journey to find those moments of joy. Of connection. Those moments of reading on our backs while tasting the sugary sweets of candy and friendship. Those moments that take us back to the very best of ourselves, wrapped up warm and comfortable in our childhood memories. Those moments of Lucy.

My road has taken me many places, and I’m still riding, still looking for the next adventure around the corner. My daughter is too. And I hope one day she’ll look back and remember a blue bike and the girl who rode it, the childhood love who lives on in the mind’s eye and heart. Waving furiously. Reminding her to take those precious moments and memories along, blessed companions, as she bravely peddles her way into the future.”

Karen K and Love Bug 1 PrintLet’s face it; every stage of childhood embodies a particular magic. The beauty of the pre-tween stage is that these kids are still young enough to enjoy music that appeals to their vivid imaginations, but are on the cusp of using their imaginations less and less in juvenile ways. They are becoming more independent, self-aware, thoughtful and intentional mini adults. But family time is still appreciated, secrets are still shared, social status is not even a blip on the radar and the world is still filled with wonder. What they hear and see adds substance to what they understand as reality, but the lines between imagination and reality are still a bit blurry. With The Blue Bike Chronicles, Kalafatas creates a moving narrative that grows along with her daughter, and captures the essence of this stage with memories they can share together.

The best part? The musical quality rivals the “Top of the Pops.” This is pretty boss because the gap that needs to be filled for this “in-between” stage is pretty darn big. The Blue Bike Chronicles elegantly weaves together themes about Family (with “Cousins Party”) and Connection (with a rendition of “I’ll Stand By You”) in a playful and powerful way that keeps pace with the catchy pop music sounds and styles that are so attractive – and addictive – to kids.

It’s complicated because pop music isn’t all bad, right? On the one hand, there’s certainly value in songs like Beyonce’s “Girls Rule the World” or T-Swift’s “Shake It Off.” On the other hand, I want my own 7-year-old daughter to be able to relate to lyrics that help her understand herself better and the emotions that go along with entering and navigating a bigger, more mature world. But who doesn’t need a song for those belt-it-out diva moments with your invisible microphone? It’s true that the world can be a pretty scary place, but the last thing I need is for her thinking that twerking makes it all better (it doesn’t, right?).

Karen at Party 11.15.15Like books, music helps us gain a sense of self and offers us space to feel. Through this new creative venture, Kalafatas reveals herself as both a musician and an author, seeking connection by sharing her beautiful story with both her daughter, and girls her daughter’s age, to create long lasting memories. That is priceless.

The series’ first single, “Without You,” officially releases today and it’s a pop masterpiece. It’s crafted with all the ingredients of a radio-ready pop song, but with meaningful lyrics that express two perspectives: that of an 8-year-old ready to bust out of school and cavort on the playground, and that of a parent going through the motions of their own busy day while thinking about their child at school. I challenge any parent to listen to the song and not be moved by the way the two come together in the end. The parallel universe drawn between parent and child is so relatable – it gave me goosebumps.

“Without You” easily rivals the best of any Disney theme music. In my mind, I’ve already cast it as the intro to a new TV show. Maybe a “dramedy,” spilling over with friendship and laughter and confident young girls exploring the ups and downs of their world. In a real way.


The Blue Bike Chronicles is a love letter to the tender “in-between” stage. Join the ride and receive a free download of “Without You” by subscribing to The Blue Bike Chronicles. Starting today, for $20 you will become a VIP Blue Bike member eligible to receive a new song a month for 8 months – between now and end of school year (“8” for Becca’s age, too). The bonus: a free album containing all of the singles at the end of your adventure in Summer 2016.

Be sure to check out Kalafatas’ other efforts, like award-winning children’s music by Karen K and the Jitterbugs, and her  collaboration with Mista Cookie Jar.

Singled Out: “Pretty Little World” – Michael and the Rockness Monsters


You know when you hear a song and think “Wow, I really like that!” Say hello to “Pretty Little World,” a refreshing little tune that breathes a heaping spoonful of sunshine into the air. Er, I just realized the artwork features sunshine and a rainbow and well, air, after I wrote the description in the previous sentence. But, as you can see, the image justifiably represents the song!

This sweet little tune encourages us to embrace the little happenings. “I wanted to convey that the slightest things can offer life-changing joy.  The song is a reminder (without being pushy)  to not overlook the simple beauty in every day life. Also at the end  there is a caveat – there are also difficult happenings in the world – the positive and negative balance each other out – we need to accentuate the positive and celebrate the simple beauty of this life.”

“Pretty Little World” is from the upcoming Michael and the Rockness Monsters self-titled debut album (due out February 2016). The soothing voice you’ll hear is Michael Napolitano, also known as the founder of Preschool of Rock, a music and enrichment program for young children (babies and toddlers).

“Pretty Little World” is also available via iTunes and Amazon.


Interview: Matt Baron of Future Hits


In general, I think people consider learning through music as a fun way to learn, and often frivolous. I don’t want to look at what I’m doing with my students always as fun exercises. I think it’s inherently fun because it’s getting the kids to think by using songs as a springboard for a lesson, but the meatiness of the corresponding lessons really challenge and ignite the kids’ thinking.

Matthew Baron (the one in the middle of the bottom row) is a Chicago Public School ESL Resource teacher and the founder of Future Hits, a Chicago-based Kindie band and educational project that enhances learning through meaningful songs for children and their families, as well as elementary aged students.

At a time where education has come under much scrutiny due to the complexity of the new Common Core standards, Baron has combined his talent as a musician and an educator to produce over 50 songs to date, all of which have served as crucial aids in the classroom.

Future Hits’ most recent album, Today is Forever, contains a collection of songs – in English and Spanish – whose educational nature will go unnoticed at first. When I initially played the CD, I was taken by Baron’s voice, which is very similar to Stephen Malkmus’. The lyrics are relatable and I felt an instant connection to the indie sounds of the music. There was no indication that the songs were crafted to encourage proper pronunciation, literacy, phonics and many other divisions of Language Arts and Reading.

I have always wanted to be an educator and love hearing about creative ways to use music as a teaching resource. So when Today is Forever crossed my path, I was moved to learn more. I had a great conversation with Baron who goes deeper into Future Hits, as a project and a band while also explaining the many fascinating ways he integrates his songs in the classroom. He also touches upon how Dave Matthews Band encouraged singing, the new album and new curriculum he is working on that will be available online as a .PDF and mp3.

Whether you are an educator or parent, or if English or Spanish (or both) is spoken in your home, I highly recommend giving Future Hits a spin.

Today is Forever is available through Bandcamp, iTunes, and CDBaby.

KCG: Tell us about Future Hits?

Matthew Baron: Sure! I am an ESL Resource teacher, and Future Hits is a project I started as a way for me to come up with lessons that meet the needs of all types of learners.

In March 2011, I was in an alternative Masters Program for Education, and one of my key assessments was based on an in-classroom assessment. A first grade teacher who had a group of ESL students in her classroom gave me her class’s spelling words for the upcoming week, which contained long “o” words featuring “oa” and “ow” spelling patterns. With 10-12 feature words in front of me, I decided to write a song called “Yellow Boat,” which ended up being on our first album, Songs for Learning. During my assessment, I brought the song and a lyric sheet to the classroom, and gave the kids a spelling quiz. It was a smash! My assessor loved it, the teacher loved it, my administration loved it, and they all encouraged me to continue to do similar songs and exercises.

As time went on, I developed the lessons more fully. I don’t always work with spelling words; sometimes it’s vocabulary, or writing strategies like persuasive writing, “if/then” statements, or compound words. I also come up with different exercises like finding adjectives or underlining nouns, and other anchor activities like word sorts and charades. Each song’s content can shift into higher order of thinking questions, which I label as “Brain Teasers.”

At times I let kids illustrate their comprehension. So if a kid is young or has writing challenges or doesn’t know English yet, they can draw what they hear from the song first as opposed to writing it. This is an effective and joyful modification for diverse learners and English-language learners.


KCG: How did you decide on the name Today is Forever for your second album?

Today is Forever comes from something one of my student’s said. One day after school, I overheard a seven year-old boy say to his mom when he got picked that “today is forever.” I just thought that was such a great phrase. It’s very profound, simple, and open to interpretation

KCG: Your previous career was in Sales. Going from Sales to Teaching, how would you describe your experience as an educator? 

A friend and mentor of mine told me while I was still in my education masters program: “Being a teacher isn’t just about having interesting conversations with students, you have to actually teach to the standards.” I look at my role as an educator as not necessarily doing interesting things with kids as a first priority. My first priority is to teach them what the state and the country standardizes. I think about how I can teach kids in an interesting and impactful way. In general, I think people consider learning through music as a fun way to learn, and often frivolous. I don’t want to look at what I’m doing with my students always as fun exercises. I think it’s inherently fun because it’s getting the kids to think by using songs as a springboard for a lesson, but the meatiness of the corresponding lessons really challenge and ignite the kids’ thinking.

KCG: How do you cover making music for families versus writing for your students? Is it hard to separate the educator part of yourself versus artist/musician?

When I write music for kids, I take a look the focus words (word families and vowel sounds mostly) I get from the general classroom teachers, sometimes there are 10, sometimes 20, I look at them on a page and think “what could this song be about?” For example, a new song on our yet to be released 2017 album is called “Mood Change,” and It teaches about long u (“ue” and “oo”) words. Solely based on the focus words I got prior to writing the song, it occurred to me that this could be a song about a kid who’s feeling depressed after school and what he can do to feel better. So it has a general appeal. It’s one of my favorite Future Hits songs because it’s based my experience as a kid and an adult; it explains how I think negative thoughts, and how I must act to get myself out of that thinking.

KCG: Does that process shift when you write specifically for students, and with the Common Core Standards in mind?

I start as a means of simplicity to help students understand sounds and then work with the focus words. Once I have the first iteration of a song, which incorporates the focus words, I think about how I can write lessons that go along with it, and that can help me teach to Common Core standards. In “Mood Change” I thought through how I could talk about settings that affect a child’s mood, like being at the library,  pool, or zoo, and that wasn’t intentional. My only intention was to talk about double o words, and the short double o sound, which is pronounced “ouhh” as in “look” and “cook.” Then I added in a lot of double o, long o sounds like “oo,” as in “zoo” and “pool”, which allows me to use the song in an expanded way in terms of kids differentiating the sounds that “oo” can make. I always tell them that the English language is very strange, and unlike Spanish, has very few rules, so we must remember why letters sound the way they do in every particular word.

KCG: In addition to encouraging pronunciation, what other Common Core standards do your songs address?

The songs have also worked to support key Common Core areas such as inferences and figurative language. Our song, “On Stormy Mornings,” for example, has literal lyrics (“On stormy mornings /  I get a late start”) and figurative ones (“My room is so dark / I sleep like a rock”). That line is also an idiom, something that is essential for ESL students to learn. Altogether those three things are where I align to different Common Core standards and different writing levels. This is what’s so great about being a resource teacher; I never considered literal or figurative language for “On Stormy Morning” until a teacher said we’re doing literal and figurative language and asked if I had any songs that would work to teach this. 

One day, I did an exercise with my students that I didn’t intend. In “On Stormy Mornings,” the word “parched” appears. The lyric goes, “My mouth is so parched / before it gets wet.” The kids didn’t know what the word “parched” meant, so we broke down the exercise. I only had them read that one line, “My mouth is so parched,” and then we sang it once. I explained to them that if they aren’t familiar with what a word means, a great reading strategy is to read around the word they are not sure about. I told them that to read a little before the word or a little bit after to gain better understanding. Together we then looked at the next line “But before it gets wet, and a girl’s hand shot up and she said “Parched means dry!” I asked how she knew that, and she said “Well, before my mouth gets wet, it’s dry.” So that’s Common Core-aligned strategy, letting kids gain strategies to read text closely to gain richer understanding. This turned out to be a great unexpected lesson.

KCG: SEL (Social Emotional Learning) is also a hot topic. In my daughter’s school they have specialists come in to teach various aspects and scenarios to the kids to encourage better interpersonal (and personal) experiences within the classroom and outside of it, like on the playground for example. Does you also write songs that align to SEL standards?

Each song has an SEL standard affixed to it, and can be used to teach SEL in a real way that aligns to standards. How the SEL standards arise is from working backwards. For example, I don’t say I’m going to write a song about honesty. Instead, I look and see that there is a standard about trust or honesty, and I think about how a particular song I’ve already written can express the meaning of trust. This makes the process more simple, instead of having all of these parameters around how a song must be in order to meet educational goals. I can look at each song and notice at least one SEL theme, and from there I find actual standards and use the songs to teach them.

KCG: Do you consider Future Hits to be an educational band? 

I was very intentional about having Today is Forever straddle both elements of the band’s goals, which is to be an educational band, and also to be a band that people can enjoy whether or not they are tapped into the educational component.

The title of our first album, Songs for Learning, is sort of a wink and homage to Brian Eno’s Music for Airports because I was listening to that album a lot around the time I was working on that album. With Today is Forever, we’re a little less overt with the educational nature of this album. For example, on the back cover of Songs for Learning, there are asterisks that denote how songs are aligned to Common Core and social emotional learning, whereas with Today is Forever, we put the educational charts in the liner notes.  Aligning our songs to educational standards is essential for us, but I wanted to convey that the record can stand alone as an album that people can listen to and not necessarily use just for educational purposes.

KCG: Why do you describe Future Hits as “the heartfelt (yet secretly educational) music project for kids, families and teachers”? It seems like “secretly educational” is a disclaimer to avoid any stigma or disapproval from the general public about what your music might sound like. 

We got a tagline (“fun (yet secretly educational)” from a review in Time Out Chicago a few years ago. We can be fun at times, but fun isn’t how I would describe us.  I do think every thing we do is heartfelt, and so that’s why I substituted that word in there.  I don’t think we need to hide the “secretly educational” piece, it really does just describe what we do. When I explain Future Hits’s music to people, I tell them it’s educational, but it’s not directly instructional like “hey kids we’re gonna learn bout the long “o” sound! Here we go: “oh, oh, oh, oh!” Continue reading


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Singled Out: “I Wanna Be A Giraffe” – Andrew & Polly


I love when kids wear their dress up clothes in public like it’s just another day. The matter of fact way they own whatever identity they take on is so amazing to watch. Almost 7, and in first grade, my daughter doesn’t seek to dress up as much anymore, but she used to dress up all the time: The Hulk, a blue bird, a Bob Marley medical doctor mashup. And it didn’t matter if we were walking down the street, or going into a restaurant, library or post office. It was all the same. Playing dress up gives kids such an amazing outlet to explore their imaginations, expand their creative minds, and even connect a little more with their own feelings and emotions. In their latest single, “I wanna be a giraffe,” Andrew & Polly capture the essence of all of this.

“I wanna be a giraffe” was inspired by a beautiful photo of a giraffe camouflaged in front of a tree that Andrew & Polly found while doing research for Ear Snacks: Disguises. Check out the second photo in that link. See if you and your kids can find the giraffe. It’s pretty hard to find!

Polly adds: This song is sung by a giraffe – but also by us, obviously!  It’s a little absurd but we feel this way all the time.  At first, the giraffe is feeling awkward and exposed out on the savannah.  After trying out a few disguises, the giraffe realizes how much fun it is to try new things – we can imagine a great montage in which the giraffe stands in a dressing room trying on lots of different costumes while singing, “I wanna be something else!  I wanna be something else today!!!”

There are so many different ways to dress, so many different jobs and hobbies you could have, so many different ways to talk and think and look and feel.  The giraffe likes imagining all the possibilities – we do, too!  So the giraffe realizes – “I wanna be like you…  And I also kinda wanna be me, too.  There’s just so many ways to be – I wanna be a lot of things.”

Trying out the new things helps the giraffe realize – you don’t have to just be one thing.  And you can change whenever you want.  At the end of all that, it’s easy for the giraffe to say – “I…  I wanna be a giraffe!”

So grab your best dress-up clothes and get ready to sing-along!

Halloween Special 2015 – Get into the spirit!


Halloween is my favorite holiday. The spookiness, the pumpkin flavored everything, and the unlimited creative potential for weird and wonderful decorating fun.

Of course you can’t have Halloween without the proper soundtrack. I have always liked when artists embellish on the “go big or go home” side of this holiday. The lush orchestral arrangements, suspenseful guitar/bass plucking, creepy stringed instruments, spooky soundbites, and a crazy cackle. Even the more whimsical ones can set the right tone.

What I also like about Halloween music for kids is that in addition to grand arrangements there are thoughtful lyrics offering messages of bravery.

Today’s post features some recommended singles and videos that are just spooky enough to capture the fun without giving your little spirits too much of a fright. 

a0596386326_10“Bumps in the night” – This kindie debut is the collaborative product of Keith Wasserman aka Mr. Whirly and Patrick Hanlin of Josh and the Jamtones. “Bumps in the Night” offers a heaping spoonful of courage with a bold declaration that shines a big ole spotlight on anything that threatens to go bump in the night.

Like what you hear? Grab a free download and take it with you.

download“I Am Not Afraid”Renee & Friends with Caspar Babypants and Rolfe Kent. The orchestral crescendos beautifully complement the song’s fierce declaration.


“Are you a Monster, Too?”Harmonica Pocket. Because if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Such a sweet little video for all those monsters, goblins and ghouls out there.


“Creatures Under My Bed”Caspar Babypants. The monsters lurking in the shadows really just want to come out and play silly songs. The boogie woogie earthquake anyone?


“The Skunk and the Robot”Ratboy Jr. With all the little skunks and robots running around on Halloween, this could be a preempitve way to get them all to get along. Even after the candy high wears off.


“It’s Only In Your Head”Mista Cookie Jar & The Chocolate Chips. Sometimes our minds play tricks on us and our imaginations get the best of us. When that happen it can really spoil a good slumber. The wonderful truth Mista Cookie Jar tells here is that sleep demons are no match for the love that surrounds kids when they are awake.


“Snowstorm on Halloween”Turkey Andersen. The irony in this song is pretty great. While hopefully it won’t happen, it’s still very likely that it could snow on Halloween. And those holiday ornaments out on the pharmacy shelves? Yeah, those are real. So, really, that right there is like a snowstorm on Halloween. Thankfully, this song keeps the cheer of both holidays alive. Happy Snowlaween y’all!

For more Halloween music to add to the spirit of the day. Check out previous Halloween playlists posted on Kids Can Groove. 

Check this Out: Rocksteady by Josh and the Jamtones


One of the most exciting jobs I had when I was a teenager was working at…wait for it… Sam Goody. Who remembers the music store Sam Goody?! I worked in inventory which was such a sweet deal because employees got to keep their share of CDs before they hit the shelves. It was here that my love for ska, punk, and hardcore blends of each blossomed. Sublime’s 40oz to Freedom made it’s way into my regular rotation and somehow my parents were completely ok with it, thankfully. For those familiar or even unfamiliar with this album, it’s definitely got its share of expletives and “adult content.” As a parent, I would probably try and postpone similar things by at least a decade for my daughter, or at least work hard to find radio edit versions. Isn’t it funny how that works?

This is where kids music has opened up many doors for our family in terms of introducing all the flavors of adult music, without compromising the quality. One of the bands that takes me back to the “Goody days” is Josh and the Jamtones. I first witnessed the power of this Boston-based crew during a live performance showcase at an industry conference (“Kindiefest”). This band lit it up! Instant success. Instant sweat. I have since gone on to work with them as their booking agent but our family’s adoration of their music has preceded my professional affiliation with the band. As a music lover and blogger, I consider it my wholehearted responsibility to introduce you to a really killer listening experience.

Josh and the Jamtones has been pumping out ska/reggae/rock jams since 2012. Their music has always had a catchy element to it, garnering several top placements in the Sirius XM’s Kids Place Live Countdown, but it is with their latest album, Rocksteady, that the Jamtones deliver exactly what makes them such a successful family staple. And they come correct! Rocksteady is a powerful amplifier that cranks out hit after hit. And there is no age limit. This is literally music that the whole family will enjoy.

Produced by Patrick Hanlin, also the Jamtones’ beatmaster/drummer, Rocksteady features several special guests including Grammy nominated hip hop master Secret Agent 23 Skidoo who drops some goosebump-inducing lyrical color on “I <3Ur Face” and “I Love U (JZ Remix),” Father Goose (featured on Grammy nominated Dan Zanes’ albums), and Jesse Peter Wagner from The Aggrolites, who sings on a remake of Toots and the Maytals’ “Monkeyman.”

Though the tempo of most of the songs reach some bpm heights, the band offers some cool down opps during the smooth dub-reggae track “Katmandu,” the sweet pop melody of “L-O-V-E” and acoustic ballad “1 of a Kind” though these tracks are not sleepy by any means. There is also some comedic interludes between bandleader Josh Shriber and producer/drummer Hanlin, similar to their previous album, Bear Hunt. Adults will likely find this humor more relatable and funny than their tots. I found myself laughing out loud several times while my daughter preferred to move on. The improvisational skill between Shriber and Hanlin is undeniable and I think these bits could do very well in their own dedicated release or podcast as opposed to being integrated into an already colorful musical landscape. But that’s again what drives the appeal to more of an all ages crowd.

For the music lover who likes just the right amount of attitude coupled with 40oz of their favorite kid-friendly elixir, Rocksteady is an all natural, preservative free guaranteed spirit booster. Get your hands on a copy and skank your cares away.

Rocksteady is available through Amazon, iTunes and CDBaby.

Fans of Josh and the Jamtones may also like The Not-Its!, Board of Education, The Aquabats, the Boogers, Sublime, The Police, Bob Marley, No Doubt, Long Beach Dub Allstars, Bad Brains, Toots and the Maytals, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Less Than Jake, The Aggrolites, Gorillaz, Beastie Boys, and Lee “Scratch” Perry.