Caspar Babypants' catchy lyrics are a great match for the power of a preschooler’s memory.
In preparation for my a field trip my pre-K class took to see a recent Caspar Babypants "Sing Along" show at the Capitol Hill library, we listened to the mp3 from one of his recent books, From Augie to Zebra, a clever rhyming alphabet song. One of my students, a huge Babypants fan, also brought in her favorite CD, Hot Dog!, for the kids to sing and dance to. As the album played, several kids shouted “I know this song!” and “I’ve been to Caspar Babypants before!,” and we realized we had a few groupies in our classroom.
Former front man of the Presidents of the United States of America Chris Ballew has recorded five smart, fun, and funny albums for kids as Caspar Babypants. In addition, he and his wife, illustrator Kate Endle, have produced three children’s books together, with a free mp3 of each book available on his website. This summer, Ballew has been performing shows in libraries all over Seattle as part of the Seattle Public Library’s summer programming for children.
At the show, as we took our seats, I leaned in and asked a few kids, “What’s your favorite Caspar Babypants song?” Without hesitation, two children responded “Googly Eyes!” and “No, mine is ‘Hot Dog!’” Clearly, children are passionate about his music, and it’s a great way for them to channel their strong opinions and love of storytelling. What we couldn’t have been prepared for was how much the show would delight the adults. Caregivers clapped and laughed while babies, toddlers and preschoolers sang and danced in an upstairs room of the library.
Ballew has a personable, charming onstage persona and introduces each song with an anecdote. As he prepared to play his rendition of the classic “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” he said, “I noticed that the spider just goes up and down and up and down … and I wanted to give him some other things to do.” His rapt fans eagerly nodded, grown-ups chuckled, and a refreshing new song began.
He cued the young audience on when it was time to sing along, dance, or rock out. Call-and-response tunes were met with enthusiastic replies (“Louder because we’re in a library!”), and upbeat numbers had children spinning, jumping and throwing their hands up in the air. Adults were intrigued when Ballew began, “Here’s a song by another Seattle children’s band … Nirvana!” and launched into a kiddie version of “Sliver.” The brooding lyrics were replaced with a kid-friendly story of a trip to grandma’s house. Delight ensued.
For the last song, “Run Baby Run,” Ballew warned “It’s a rocker,” and indeed it got the youngsters again on their feet and smiling.
The images of toddlers fixated on his guitar, preschoolers smiling and mouthing the lyrics, and mothers holding babies in one arm and snapping their fingers with a free hand will stay with me for some time. Ballew generously fulfilled his promise to chat with our groupies after the show, who gushed to him about everything from favorite songs to their upcoming birthdays. He listened patiently, high-fived them, and promised to play their favorites next time.
If you go:
What and where: Ballew is performing “Sing Along with Caspar Babypants” shows throughout the summer at Seattle libraries, as well as many other shows. This week, he plays a lunchtime concert at Richmond Beach on Tuesday (noon), at Auburn Kids Summerstage on Wednesday (noon); at Madrona-Goldmark Library on Thursday (10:30 a.m.); at Lake City Library on Friday (11 a.m.); and at PEPSapalooza on Saturday (11 a.m.-3 p.m.). Most shows are free. Also see his website, babypantsmusic.com, for a full calendar.
See also ParentMap's recent interview with Chris Ballew for more insight into his career and his music.