New Zealand children’s artist, Claudia Robin Gunn’s latest addition to her “Little Wild” coterie starts and ends in the zoo. It’s part of the Sing for the Earth series, and this one is simply called Animals. The zoo (and its “hullabaloo”), like real zoos, is only a taste of the animal kingdom for children and their parents, however, and Claudia covers animals, bugs, and birds in the wild, many of them with native New Zealand names. She has a magic way of being scientifically accurate and completely fantastical, capturing the imagination of children and gently pricking the conscience or reigniting the fire of her adult listeners with a love for the wild world that we inhabit.
She is at once a conversationist and a glorious artist, and the wonder of this album, after over a dozen children’s albums before it, is that she never seems to run out of clever rhymes or beautiful melodies or compositions. Funded by Creative New Zealand, she is a national treasure, that I hope will become a world treasure. Mostly, she does what good teachers do best, and piques the curiosity. “In the cloud forest canopy / the songbirds call / All the hummingbirds and toucans / and umbrella birds and more,” she sings on one song. But is able to instill in children, who will inherit this planet (as well as the adults who brought them into the world) the urgency our current climate crisis demands. “If you wanna hear the chorus / We must save the trees,” she ends the same song.
Songs about melting ice caps (“Roly Poly Polar Bear”), the importance of biodiversity (“Rainbow World”), extinction of past creatures (“Feathers and Bones”), and more. She shows us how important creatures, like the at-risk honey bee are, the beautiful lessons that animals, like the inch worm and the frog, teach to us, and just the joy intrinsic in life as seen through the animal kingdom. Like on my favorite track from the album, “Go Baby Rhino Go,” which is a Beatles’-esque song that follows a growing rhino as it runs and stops and runs and stops, and sleeps, incorporating a beautiful lullaby in its otherwise romping tune.
Her songs are all expertly crafted (with all the music performed on this record by producer Tom Fox) and she has a brilliant eye and ear for making the child (and the child in us) join in the history, and history making, (listen to “This Book Belongs to Everyone”), the play and playful work (listen to “Brave Like a Lion”), the gift and responsibility of being alive on this planet at this time (listen to, well, every song). But for kids’ it’s just pure fun. Songs about panda’s flying on planes (it’s actually a story about Bei Bei who was shipped from Washington D.C.’s zoo to China, in a diplomatic offering), penguins in sushi shops (another true story), and so on for a whopping twenty five songs.
In her expert way, she even made a slow plodding music critic and musician, and consummate over thinker, like myself, feel like an important part of the fast paced world that we live in. On “The Very Busy Sloth,” she sings about how the slowest animal on the planet may be one of the smartest (is this, too, backed by scientific data?). “And I’m thinking my way through gazillions of things / my brain works so fast I get giddy / I may look like I’m doing nothing at all / Really I’m actually quite busy.” Whether it is true or not, (knowing Claudia’s work, it probably is,) it is an encouragement for the children (and people like me), who do much of their living inside their heads. Just as there is biodiversity in the animal kingdom, there is precious diversity in the human race. Claudia hits a bullseye on a number of different targets, just as she’s done time and time again. A record, I think, the world must hear.