Photo: © Timothy White
About the Author
“Two of the things I love most in life are music and reading.”—Raffi
Raffi is the author of the Songs to Read® series and other popular books for children.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
“Two of the things I love most in life are music and reading,” says Raffi, North America’s most popular and beloved children’s entertainer. “With my children’s books—particularly the Songs to Read® series—I can see them united. I love the thought that children and their parents are singing and reading together. Singing and reading were extremely important to my parents, and I know how crucial they are to the early development of all children.”
Raffi Cavoukian was born in Cairo, Egypt, in 1948 to Armenian parents. He was named Raffi after a famous Armenian author, one of his mother’s favorite writers. When he was ten years old, his family immigrated to Canada and settled in Toronto (where Raffi lived until he moved to Vancouver in 1990). His father, the renowned portrait photographer Cavouk, continued his successful career in his new home. He also continued to play the accordion and sing in the Armenian church choir. Music and literature were very much a part of Raffi’s growing up.
Raffi began to play the guitar as a teenager. He spent many hours listening to his favorite singer-songwriters, including Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan, and learning to play their songs. He started composing on his own, and in 1970 he began his career as a performer in local music spots.
In 1974, his friend Daphne Pike recognized in his warm, sincere voice something that would appeal to young children. She urged him to visit the Toronto nursery school where she was director and spend an hour or so entertaining her students.
The result was magic. The children laughed, clapped, and sang along with Raffi’s renditions of “Eensy Weensy Spider,” “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep,” and “The Wheels on the Bus.” He sang songs that they loved and encouraged them to join in as soon as they could. Other similar performances followed: uncomplicated, catchy tunes, silly jokes, and love and respect flowing in both directions. Something unique was developing.
By 1976, Raffi was touring folk festivals and coffeehouses across Canada, writing songs by day and performing at night. He had recorded one solo album on his own fledgling Troubadour Records label. He was performing in Toronto schools, doing shows and music workshops for children and teachers.
By talking with parents and teachers, Raffi realized that there was a real need for quality recorded music for children. There were few albums that recognized children as a worthy audience. “Music for adults is continually changing and growing,” Raffi later wrote, “and we have a multitude of recorded works to choose from. However, there are very few good children’s records. But children deserve good music, too.”
In 1976, he decided to put his thoughts into action. He began to plan an album of traditional and original songs that recognized children’s need for music and that they could easily make their own. The result was Singable Songs for the Very Young, an album that has become a classic and is still the best-selling of all Raffi’s recordings.
As Raffi’s music became more and more popular, and as the number of his recordings increased, another dream began to grow—using his songs as springboards to reading. Raffi’s colleagues Deborah Pike, Bonnie Simpson, and Bert Simpson—former primary school teachers—knew that children could naturally begin to read the words to songs they already loved to sing. Familiar song lyrics could help young children move from singing to reading.
So they printed the words to a favorite song in booklets, which were then illustrated by the children themselves or by older students; as a result, the children had instant readers that they could use at their own level of proficiency. Children who could not read at all turned the pages and looked at the pictures as they sang along; children with more advanced skills could read or sing the words as they went through the books. This led to the publication of Down by the Bay and Shake My Sillies Out, followed by other titles in the Songs to Read® series.
Over the years, Raffi and Crown have worked together to manufacture books that reflect Raffi’s deep, ongoing concern for the environment. Chlorine-free papers and vegetable-based inks have been used whenever possible, in order to minimize toxic effects on the environment. The goal is to make Raffi books that are completely organic, with no harm to the Earth during their manufacture or after their life span.
“With what we’ve recently learned about the dangers that synthetic pollutants pose to children’s health, it is important to change the way many goods, including books, are made,” says Raffi. “Authors and publishers can and must work together to make publishing a clean and sustainable enterprise.”
In 1998, Raffi published his first book for adults—an autobiography. In it he tells the story of his unique life and career, including his efforts to blend respect for both children and the natural world, in order to work toward a child-honoring society.
“Children will get a first, cheerful lesson about the natural world by becoming acquainted with an enchanting baby beluga. The illustrations are a joy, and the song’s rhythm and rhyme make it easy to remember and sing.”—School Library Journal