Along with our annual round-up of the top Christian albums, this year we decided to offer up our choices for the best Christian audio products made for the younger set. We concentrated on releases aimed at elementary school and younger, because by the time kids get up to middle school years, they generally prefer the pop and rock found on the regular Best-of list. So we scoured the market to see what released this year to please kids and their parents, from the tiniest of tots to the upper-elementary set.
We found a variety of offerings, primarily broken down into three categories: lullabies and music especially for infants; Sunday school songs and cute music for preschoolers and young elementary; and more upbeat praise and worship, kid remakes of favorite radio singles, and audiobooks or story-song combinations for older kids. Out of about 50 products, we narrowed it down to our top 12:
Golden Books Music
Golden Books rivals the longstanding Cedarmont Kids brand with its line of compact discs for kids, each containing 15 songs and their split-track versions for around $6. We like this one because children revisit old favorites like "I Am a 'C'" and "The Wise Man and the Foolish Man" in musical arrangements that range from hymn-like (with added saxophone) on "Michael Row the Boat Ashore" to country strumming on "Down in My Heart" to a bluesy feel on "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands." Sung by kids and for kids, Sunday School Songs offers just what you should look for in some low-dough musical fun.
The Adventures of Sir Bernard the Good Knight gets an A-plus for originality in that most kids' CDs on Christian store shelves offer just a bunch of familiar songs. Sir Bernard is a whole musical written by recording artist Steve Green to teach virtues to young children, and it's fun. Green gives us a story and some Broadway-style music that reinforce virtues from friendliness to obedience to cleanliness (plus nine others). The orphan pup Little Dog, who must befriend some scruffy kittens and learn to put others' needs ahead of his own, is a hoot.
This isn't really a musical product, but we're including it because every kid should listen to this one. Zonderkidz has put together this Adventure Audio Bible so busy kids can hear children reading fully dramatized Scripture, with the added bonuses of one-minute memory songs, music, and sound effects. We like the fact that these CDs can be popped in and out of the car player, played in the kitchen, or in kids' bedrooms at night before they sleep. What a great way to get the Word into their hearts! There are lots of audio Bibles for adults. Kudos to Zonderkidz for giving us one for the elementary set.
With the resurgence in popularity of hymns, Cedarmont Music's repackaged Hymns title from its classic collection makes our list because it introduces youngsters to classic songs of the church like "This Is My Father's World," "To God Be the Glory," and the "Doxology" while giving parents real value (under $4). The musical content actually first released in 1996, but we love the new bright cover, lower price, and especially the enhanced CD features that let you print out larger versions of the lyrics, plus coloring pages, games, and activities. This one's a winner for the six-and-under set.
This value-priced collection offers the most bang for the buck to keep babies happy (and eventually humming along). With four discs well under $20, tiny tots get 60 instrumental versions of Christian classics and Sunday school songs. Babies will love the light and lilting tunes, especially backed by the tinkling, music-box sounds. What's not to like about "If You're Happy and You Know It," "Oh, How I Love Jesus," "All Night, All Day," and "His Banner Over Me Is Love"? We like it all.
Good Seeds, LLC
This new Seeds series aims to teach kids (and parents) Bible verses by setting them to music. Not a completely new idea, but these arrangements are better than most—using modern rock, electronica, and modern worship melodies, with plenty of electric and acoustic guitars. The verses are sung repetitively by adults and children and come with Scripture memory cards that contain the words. This one made the list as an awesome tool for memorizing the Word for those of any age who might struggle with memorization. This catchy collection sticks with you.
Wacky World Studios/EMI
if parents can get past their squeamishness and buy into a kids' series that centers around some funky roaches (aboard Noah's Ark in the first video), they'll find a lot of fun in Wacky World Studios' The Roach Approach. We included the soundtrack because you just can't overlook the heavyweight talent found here. Check out the urban raps by Gabe Patillo on "Ay Yo!" and the unmistakable vocals by Michael McDonald on "Wham Bam!" Natalie Grant takes a turn on the beautiful ballad "There Is a Rainbow," and Scott Faircloff gives a nod to Randy Newman on the piano-backed "We All Gotta Get Along." Like any soundtrack, it will resonate best with kids who have the video, but deserves a nod for the most original creativity displayed in the Christian market this year.
Boppin' Blue and Rockin' Red
Good Seeds, LLC
An obvious take-off on the mainstream huge hit Kidz Bop series, Boppin' Blue and Boppin' Red finally give Christian kids a chance to pop their favorite songs into the karaoke machine and sing away to their hearts' content. The discs contain 12 "Master Versions" and instrumental tracks of hits like "(There's Gotta Be) More to Life" (Stacie Orrico), "Shine" (Newsboys), "Ocean Floor" (Audio Adrenaline), "The Devil Is Bad" (The W's), and praise songs like "I Could Sing of Your Love Forever," "Shout to the Lord," "Spinnin' Around" (Jump5), "Lovely Day" (Out of Eden), and "Big House" (Audio Adrenaline). The master versions and arrangements are just adequate, but that's okay—because the real point here is to let the consumer shine, and we'd much rather hear kids belting out Kirk Franklin's "Stomp" than most anything by Britney.
Bob, Larry and the VeggieTales gang
Big Idea Records
Bob, Larry and the VeggieTales gang are back with the next installment of hilarity, which features 19 tunes from recent videos The Ballad of Little Joe, A Snoodle's Tale, and An Easter Carol. "Happy Ki-Yi Birthday" is here (bound to become a new family tradition in some households, I'm sure), plus "Dream of a Dozen Cactus," "113 Years Ago," and the signature Silly Song "Sports Utility Vehicle." How do these guys come up with this stuff? Who cares, as long as it keeps comin'. Put on the Disco Version of "I Want to Dance," and feel free to get down and boogie (in the privacy of your own living room, please).
This fourth volume in Integrity's Shout Praises! Kids series continues the fun by taking popular modern worship songs currently being sung in churches all over the world and letting kids sing them. The appeal is in the way these songs are put together, using modern pop and rock instead of watering down the sounds. This fourth installment features songs like "Blessed Be Your Name," "Holy Is the Lord," and "Rooftops." Maybe the best advantage of Shout Praises! is the cutting-edge tunes not found on every kids' collection. If kids want to rock out, this is the way to do it!
The Praise Baby Collection
Big House Kids
while the best-selling Baby Einstein series set out to improve the intellect of infants through music, Big House Kids' Praise Baby Collection aims to touch the mind, heart, and spirit through soothing praise and developmentally appropriate sounds. The 15 songs promise to engage an infant's spirit and mind, "stimulating early learning in tactile, cognitive, social, emotional, and, most importantly, spiritual development." While we can't guarantee it does all that, we can assure you that these soothing songs introduce baby to modern praise on a lullaby level, with top hits like "Hallelujah (Your Love Is Amazing)," "As the Deer," and "Agnus Dei." The Praise Baby Collection further engages through its coordinating DVDs and board books (WaterBrook Press) that make this line a winner.
Shout Praises! Kids and Maranatha! Kids Praise Teams
Integrity combines rock 'n' roll grooves, kids' voices, adult worshipers, and the excitement of a live concert feel in the first entry in the iWorship series just for kids. Aimed at the older elementary set and the adults who worship with them, iWorship Kids packages current modern worship songs with a kid-friendly feel. Songs range from Lincoln Brewster's "Let the Praises Ring" to Tim Hughes' "Here I Am to Worship" and Darlene Zschech's "Shout to the Lord." This effort stands out because it recognizes that today's children—and their parents—demand modern sounds. The bonus DVD adds an extra touch, with videos for Paul Baloche's "Open the Eyes of My Heart" and Darrell Evans' "Trading My Sorrows." Good stuff for the whole fam!