Caspar Babypants. Photo credit: Brian Kasnyik
Car-ride saviour. Redeemer of the witching hour. Preschool party starter. The Seattle musician known to the threenager set as Caspar Babypants has long been the answer to a long-asked, quintessentially Seattle question: What happens when indie rock-loving parents grow up, have a couple of kids (or five), and go looking for children’s music that doesn’t drive them crazy?
A quick refresher: Your first brush with Caspar Babypants, also known as singer/songwriter Chris Ballew, likely came amid the rousing indie rock anthem “Lump,” the 1995 hit by the Presidents of the United States of America about Ballew’s benign brain tumor. Over the past decade, Ballew has put out 14 popular children’s albums as Caspar Babypants, pairing sweet but never cloying songs for children with the bold, engaging folk-art-inspired album art by his partner, the collage artist Kate Endle.
Their latest collaboration, the couple’s sixth and seventh books for children, new board books from Seattle-based Sasquatch Books: Penguin on a Scooter and Ocean Motions. The books' publication date is March 13.
"Penguin on a Scooter" should elicit a particularly strong response among children just starting to understand the depths of humor to be found in the best silly setups. It is a book of bold claims: “Nothing is cuter than a penguin on a scooter / Nothing is sweeter than a tiny chirping tweeter…” You can think of it as a linguistic jump up from classics like Eric Carle’s "Brown Bear Brown Bear, What Do You See?," in the way that it introduces individual animals alongside unexpected adjectives. Disco-dancing filly? Check. Dapper, dressy pheasant? Yes. Kids will understand immediately that animals don’t do that and will love the surprise.
Kate Endle’s tactile, bright and engaging collages elevate the repeated refrain with a parade of animals caught in incongruous moments. Working in paper, glue, gouache, fabric, cork, fluid acrylic and glitter, she creates critters that feel engaging without coming across as cartoonish. Color is Endle’s friend, and both of these books retain cohesiveness in style and sentiment you’ll recognize from the Caspar Babypants albums she has done without having unifying color palettes. It’s a nice trick: Allowing each turned page to carry predictability while also being surprising.
"Ocean Motions" takes a simpler premise: The animals are just doing their thing, and we are the thoughtful observers. “Walruses waving warmly / Sea otters opening oysters” – it is a lovely lesson in first consonants paired with Endle’s high-contrast, gem-toned collages of ocean-dwelling creatures like starfish, jellyfish, aquatic mammals, crabs, sardines, and – this must be pointed out – two different types of otters (river and sea).
These are two fine additions to your collection of board books and, perhaps, the beginning of a whole new appreciation for the Seattle kiddie music scene. Both of the books come with a free download of a same-name song to be had at babypantsmusic.com. “Ocean Motions” has a fun Caribbean beat alongside Ballew’s clear lyrics with a chorus that comes in and out like a wave, while “Penguin on a Scooter” feels less vibe-y and more like a road trip as it moves through each animal’s page. It ends, as these things should, with a thoughtful note about love.
Where to see: Caspar Babypants performs regularly around the Seattle area. Find upcoming shows.