Family Albums, produced with our partners at Spotify, features leading artists and authors revealing the songs and stories they’ve read to and played for their own kids to get them to crack up, calm down, or question everything. Check out the playlist that accompanies this article here.
Given that it’s officially the holiday season, you’re probably staring down (at least) a few hours in planes, trains, or automobiles, which means you’ll inevitably hear the following 4 words at some point: “Tell me a story.” You no doubt have a few clutch responses, but would they be critically acclaimed or award winning? They would be if you’re name is Dallas Clayton, Chris Van Dusen, or David Santat.
Clayton’s An Awesome Book series earned him the title of “The New Dr. Seuss,” while Santat’s The Adventures Of Beekle just won the Caldecott Medal and Van Dusen is the author/illustrator behind the New York Times bestselling Mercy Watson series. We asked all 3 how they occupy their own kids’ time while traveling, and their answers provide a cheat sheet for any guy to step up his kid distraction game.
On Stories They Told Their Kids During Long Rides
Van Dusen: I wanted to come up with things a kid would think of for If I Built A Car. My kids were the right age, so I asked what they would add to their ultimate car, and they poured out suggestions. I said, “What if it went in water and had a glass bottom so you could see the fish?” One of my sons said, “Why doesn’t it just dive under water like a submarine?” I thought, “That’s so much better!” It was the way a kid would think, so that’s what I put in the book.
Santat: My youngest son inspired my upcoming book during a car trip. We got down this rabbit hole about how we perceive time; if you’re bored it seems to slow down but if you’re having fun it seems to speed up. We went back and forth and it became this story of a kid on a roadtrip who gets so bored he goes back in time. Another time my oldest asked, “What if you found the Batcave?” I said, “Batman’s not there?” He said, “Yeah, what if you just found it?” I said, “That’s amazing!” I’m working on that one right now.
Clayton: “What’s Going On” came on and my son asked, “What’s this about?” I told him what I thought: people could be nicer to each other, maybe the answer to the trauma and tragedy around us is love. He asked, “What happened to Marvin Gaye?” I said, “He got killed.” He said, “Whoever killed him probably didn’t listen to this song.” That was profound beyond his years.
On Music They Played For Their Kids
Clayton: I realized my son doesn’t know that many bands and musicians. He listens to music all the time, he just hasn’t accrued 30 years of useless knowledge like, who are the Spin Doctors? So, I said, let’s make this an active thing rather than passively hoping you’re on the playground one day and someone plays you a band.
I went to Rolling Stone‘s ‘500 Greatest Artists Of All Time’ list, and we sat down and went through 5 to 10 artists at a time. They’re not chronological, so you’d be at Tom Petty and then Nine Inch Nails and then Diana Ross. And with each, we’d pick 3 or 4 songs recommended on Spotify and listen to them. It was really cool to watch someone consider something for the first time without any preconceptions. Because the reason you do or don’t like Smashing Pumpkins might have to do with their music, but it might have to do with who you were when you first heard them. With my son, it’s 100-percent sonic. It was a fun exercise.
Van Dusen: We did sort of the traditional thing, Raffi was really popular and we had some of his cassette tapes and we put those on — “Baby Beluga” and all those songs. But we drove down to Florida with both kids in carseats. By 4:00 PM they reached meltdown point, and the funniest thing happened. We put on this old B-52s tape, and they just stopped. I don’t know what it was, but we got another hour’s worth of drive out of it.
On Books They Recommend To Everyone
Van Dusen: Dr. Seuss was the genius of writing rhyming stories with a rhythm, meter, and beat that scan perfectly. 16 Cows by Lisa Wheeler really influenced me; the rhymes are perfectly constructed. One of my favorites that came out this year, It’s Only Stanley by Jon Agee. Some middle grade and young adult novels that are excellent: The Family Romanov by Candice Fleming, and The One And Only Ivan and Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate.
Santat: Press Here by Herve Tullet. The beautiful simplicity — pressing dots on paper but feeling like they’ve interacted with the book when it’s a different color on the next page. It’s brilliant. They’re fully aware it’s a book, but they’re like, “This is magical!” Big Rabbit’s Bad Mood and Crankenstein, about characters whose horrible moods infect their lives and ruin everyone’s day. We try to relate to our sons’ lives. They’ll get moody and say, “I’ve been a Crankenstein.” Results may vary.
Clayton: Anything by Shel Silverstein or Roald Dahl, I Love You Forever is a tearjerker, The Giving Tree is classic. The repetition of the Richard Scarry books. The Little Miss and Mr. series, you can play, “Which one are you most like?” Spring Is Here by Taro Gomi is beautiful. Dr. Seuss is classic, but hard to read if you’re not a rhythmic person. You don’t realize — his words are insane. It’s made-up gibberish, and it rhymes!