(I introduced the great American scholar, Leslie Fiedler, in Part I of these essays on children’s music.  My comments are informed by concepts introduced in a graduate course Leslie taught on children’s literature.)

To my ears, the songs are over produced, with unnecessary reverb on the voices, and borrowings from the middle-of-the-road orchestral Broadway styled arrangements.

But what make the songs great is that Sandy Tobias Offenheim so beautifully expresses funny nuances that only a kid would remember:

My six year old moldars are growing like boulders
At the very, very, very back of my mouth.*

And she depicts the craziness of ankle biters that is recognizable only to grownups who have to spend a lot of time with the little monsters:

The child sings, Mommy!  The Mommy says, Yes?  The child sings, Mommy!  The Mommy says, Yes? The child sings, Mommy!  The Mommy says, Yes?  The child says, I forgot.**

And she livens the songs with silly sound effects and makes great use of the voices of very talented child performers.

And this song touches on a heart rending and profound proclivity of the little ones:  “Talking to Myself.”

Talking to myself is so very good for me,
Can work out all my problems,
Plan a strategy.
I don’t have to use my manners,
And there’s no apology.
Talking to myself
Is very good for me.

When grown-ups see you talking to yourself
They say, “Who are you talking to?”
What they don’t seem to realize is that
I’m doing what I want to do.
Speaking to whom I wanna speak.
Saying what I wanna say.
No one gets hurt,
Don’t have to leave,
I can always stay**

In this song Offenheim is depicting what Leslie Fiedler described as one of the deepest dream needs of children: the need to be independent – on one’s own.  Leslie said the fantasy at the heart of all great American children’s literature is escaping from home.  How many children’s stories can you name that turn on the fantasy of an alternate family or of leaving the family?  They depict a world in which the child or child figure fends for him or herself without the interference of fathers and mothers and wicked sisters and stupid brothers.  The Odyssey, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels, The Cat in the Hat, Cinderella, Thumbelina, Lord of the Rings, The Paper Bag Princess, Where the Wild Things Are, and millions of other stories adopted by children all turn on leaving family behind.  They begin with the simplest act in the world – being abandoned or leaving home.  This allows the child to be who he or she really is, without interference.

Many children’s books – and the child’s private fantasies – permit the child to experience the deepest indignation they feel – the resentment about the failings of human institutions, the first and most disappointing of which, is the family.  Within the family, the child is helpless.  The child imagines a world in which she will have all the powers that others use to control her.  The power that the grownups exercise devour the child, cannibalize her spirit.

But there is also, associated with this indignation that children feel at their subjugation within the family, a subtext of unbearable heartbreak borne by parents.  Because parents, the ones upon whom the child should be able to rely for safety and nourishment and love, are as powerless against adversity as any child.  At some point, every parent betrays their pathetic ineffectual humanness to their children.  It is a fall from grace that every parent knows.

Think how much more agonizing it is for the parents in war-torn and impoverished communities who cannot find a way to feed, shelter, and protect their children.  So it was when the stories collected by the Brothers Grimm were first told.  Story tellers adapted their craft to make sense of the Seven Years War, the revolutions in Holland, France, and America, and many other rivalries and conflicts that directly involved, exploited, and annihilated civilian populations.  Sometimes parents cannot give children what they need the most, what they need to merely survive.  This helplessness and poverty often appears in fairy tales.  The parents, because of their feebleness, become the enemies of their own children.

One of the first illusions of each child is that someday you really grow up, reach peace, attain power, and have total control.  The first time a child sees their parent in a weak state is unbearably bitter.  This pushes the child toward independence, and explains the power they acquire from leaving the family behind, even if only for a short time.

So it is, that the child in this song sings:

Friends are very good to have
I’M the first one to agree.
But now, I just wanna talk to ME.**

* Sandy Tobias Offenheim, “My Six Year Old Moulders Feel Bigger Than Boulders,” Cee & Cee Music (CAPAC) (1977).  From Sandy Tobias Offenheim, Honey On Toast: More Songs of Sandy Tobias Offenheim, Berandol Records, BER 9021 (1977).  Album design – Mike Milicic; Photography – John To.

** Sandy Tobias Offenheim, “I Forgot,” Cee & Cee Music (CAPAC) (1977).  From Honey On Toast.

*** Sandy Tobias Offenheim, “Talking to Myself,” Cee & Cee Music, (CAPAC) (1977).  From Honey On Toast.