The Pop Ups (by Eric Waterman)

Fans of independent music, rejoice—four of the five of this year’s “Best Children’s Album” Grammy nominees are from indie, or as it’s known in the kid’s music world, “kindie” artists. The fifth nominee is an audiobook version of a Nobel Prize winner’s inspiring autobiography.

The offerings (click here to visit a page with sample tracks from each nominee) are musically sophisticated and refreshingly original. And they have one major thing in common: They are joyful without being cloying, exuberant without losing their real-world authenticity.

The upbeat themes of encouragement, creativity, humor, and positivity are as healthy for my ears as they are for my 4-year-old’s. Especially on the days when it’s hard to get a firm grasp on the attitude I want to cultivate, these albums are a reminder and an invitation to see the world and my child through a positive, empowered, and grateful lens.

The Grammy Awards air on CBS on Sunday Feb. 8 at 8 p.m. EST. The day before the show, the five nominated artists will perform a benefit concert in Los Angeles, with proceeds going to Little Kids Rock, a nonprofit organization that provides under-served public schoolchildren with free music classes and new instruments.

Appetite for Construction
The Pop Ups
The album title, a playful riff on the 1987 Guns N’ Roses classic “Appetite for Destruction,” is only the beginning of what parents will love about The Pop Ups’ exuberant collection of songs about imagination, creativity and play. The Brooklyn-based group, made up of performers Jason Rabinowitz and Jacob Stein, bring what they call their “party-friendly electro-acoustic pop songs” to vivid life on the album as well as in puppet musical performances they’ve developed both for the stage and webcasts. “Nobody makes better modern pop for preschoolers than The Pop Ups,” writes Stefan Shepherd on his music review site Zooglobble.com.

Video: “Costume Party”

I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World (Malala Yousafzai)
Neela Vaswani
This audiobook is a recording of the New York Times-bestselling young readers edition of Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai’s autobiography. Yousafzai was shot in the head at 14 by Taliban fighters in Peshawar, Pakistan, for speaking out that girls should have the right to attend school. Her subsequent medical recovery and ongoing commitment to advocating for girls’ rights and education have made her an international symbol of empowerment and courage. The audiobook is read stirringly by the award-winning writer Neela Vaswani, and it features a prologue and epilogue read by Yousafzai herself. Vaswani says she is “humbled and delighted” to be nominated in this category, but it is fitting because she listened to South Asian and Middle Eastern music as part of her preparation to narrate the work. “I played one album in particular every day—Kinan Azmeh’s ‘Complex Stories, Simple Sounds.’ I can’t help but feel that some of that music, those tones, seeped into my narration.”

Just Say Hi!
Brady Rymer and the Little Band that Could
If you know any shy kids (or are one yourself), the title track from the New York-based Brady Rymer and the Little Band that Could’s album will immediately put you at ease (“Look them in the eyes/Give them a smile/And just say hi”). The album’s instrumentally diverse, harmony-rich rock tracks unfold from there, covering topics from the sweet delights of home (“My Home”) to the joys of cutting loose after a long day of behaving yourself (“Getting My Ya Yas Out”). This is Rymer’s second Grammy nomination, and he funded the album by raising money on Kickstarter. Surveying the nominees, he says, “Yahoo for the independents!”

Video: “My Home”

The Perfect Quirk
Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
The pioneer of what he calls “Kid Hop” or “Family Hip Hop,” Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, whose real name is Cactus Sullivan, will get kids feeling great about themselves and the world they live in while they move their bodies to the beat. Filled with real-world positive messages about everything from slowing down in a busy world (“Unwind”) to how it’s okay to make mistakes (“Guess What”), northern California-based Skidoo brings his hip hop cred (earlier in his career, he performed with Run DMC, Mos Def, and the P Funk All Stars, among others) to the family crowd. The album features his 13-year-old daughter Saki, who raps under the name MC Fireworks and has been performing with her dad since she was 5.

Video: “Imaginary Friend”

Through the Woods
The Okee Dokee Brothers

The follow-up to this Minnesota-based duo’s 2013 Grammy-winning album “Can You Canoe?” was highly anticipated—especially in my house, where my son has staged many a production based on the nature-inspired bluegrass music of Joe Mailander and Justin Lansing. “Through the Woods” chronicles a 30-day hiking trip the childhood friends took along the Appalachian Trail (“Canoe,” also part of the group’s “Adventure Series,” found them on a 30-day paddle down the Mississippi River). The album is at times moving, at times raucous, and always rooted in a simultaneous respect for the natural world and the rich musical traditions of Appalachian mountain music. It comes with a companion DVD that brings the trail’s vistas to life for kids and parents alike, featuring the duo’s signature humor, as in a segment where the friends have a late-night tent-to-tent call on their “pine phones” (pine cone iPhones). “So what provider do you use, Horizon?” says Mailander. “No, actually it’s AT & Tree,” responds Lansing.

Video: “Echo”

Holly Lebowitz Rossi lives in Arlington, Massachusetts with her husband, her 4-year-old son, and an embarrassingly (deliciously) large CD collection.

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