Polka-dot doo doo doooo… Polka-dot pants, polka-dot pants… Sorry. Just saw Eric Litwin live at the Ottawa International Children’s Festival, and I’m still dancing around to that number.
I think most people with little kids know who Eric Litwin is. His best-selling Pete the Cat books (the first four in the series) sit on most Kindergarten shelves, and they were most definitely in our must-have-in-family-library list. Homemade felt Petes are found at every playgroup and library storytime. We just became familiar with the Nut Family stories, which are just as much fun. As with the reading of any Litwin books, you must play the accompanying audio (CD or link) to hear him read and sing for for the full experience. They aren’t just books, but interactive performances.
So when the Ottawa International Children’s Festival invited me to take the family to a show in exchange for a review, we had to go with Eric Litwin Live. It was a tough decision; The festival features many award-winning acts from around the world, some that have appeared at Just For Laughs or even Broadway. The Box Brothers and Raw Metal looked pretty great too, but Litwin’s books are such a staple in our kids’ lives, and we were sure he’d put on a fun show.
From the moment we arrived, I knew it would be a good time because he asked the families to sit together. We’ve been to shows where the kids sit up front and parents hover in the back like Junior High Dance chaperones, but this was going to be a family affair. The kids liked that as much as we did. So we all piled on one blanket in the front row that cold Sunday morning, the kids in their polka-dot pants. Though it was chilly in the tent, we warmed up fast when Mr. Eric had us seat a kid on our lap (“preferably one you know”, he advised) and chuck them in the air as he sang and played guitar. Big Bro was especially enticed by the offer of bonus points for hitting the tent ceiling.
Mr. Eric sat down with a few families before the show and showed us his some of his upcoming book, Groovy Joe, which he narrated later in the show with the usual audience participation. As always, it’s easy to join in even if it’s the first time hearing the story. Note to self: Add Groovy Joe to the must-read list this September.
We were also treated to an old favourite, Pete the Cat and his Four Groovy Buttons, only with some artistic license. I’ve never considered channeling Metallica while singing “still have my belly button”.
Litwin often got the kids in on teasing their parents, which the kids enjoyed. This included having them lecture us on how children learn to read best through more than just sight words and phonetics (!).
What’s this, now? You see, Mr. Litwin is a “recovering teacher”, as he put it, who noticed that his Grade 3 students didn’t love to read like young kids do, and believes it’s largely due to the way reading is taught. Eventually he left teaching and began working on kids’ books that incorporate multisensory techniques such as movement, music, repetition, call-and-response and rhymes– all stuff that keeps kids interested when they might otherwise lose their attention and start pouncing on their older brother (not that I have experience with that).
If I may be serious for a moment: Also being a former teacher who saw the difference between the enthusiastic Kindergartners I taught and the disillusioned ten-year-olds, I know exactly what he’s talking about and find this whole background story really interesting. I’m also the parent of two boys, so I know well how kids need to move, as I’ve written about before.
And move they did! Big Bro even got to join Mr. Eric and a few other kids on stage to dance in his .
Eric Litwin knows what makes the kids light up. Anytime I glanced over my shoulder, every kid on his or her parents’ lap was singing along or roaring with laughter, and usually the parents were, too (we got our fair share of wink-wink jokes). My kids said their favourite part was the nutty song where words were replaced by blowing giant raspberries. You had to be there, but it was hilarious.
I imagine every performance leaves parents and teachers noting down the next books to get when they see how much the kids love them.
What a treat it is to have the Children’s Festival in our own backyard (Ottawa, I mean), to get to see live performances like these made for kids and their families. We’ll be singing nutty songs and doing the Polka-Dot Pants Dance for weeks to come.