Tampa, FL – It’s a song that’s been bouncing around in children’s book author Allison A. Wilkins’ head for decades. As a very young girl, Wilkins, aka “Ms. Alli,” would use music to soothe herself at night. Music became such a powerful influence at such an early age that Wilkins, has been utilizing music as a soother to educate young children for over 15 years. As the owner of Allisongs For Tots with eight locations throughout Tampa Bay and Sarasota, she uses music to help her young students grow socially, emotionally, cognitively, and developmentally. But it was one young student, in particular, that resurrected Monsters Are Afraid Of Music and inspired Wilkins to bring this message to children throughout the world who could take comfort from it.
Wilkins, who studied voice and drama at the Pittsburgh Playhouse for the Performing Arts and holds a degree in psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University, teaches the internationally renowned Music Together program from her Hyde Park Village Studio and seven other locations. It was through her Music Together classes that she first met Teeja Johnson in November of 2010. Teeja was a vibrant, active 16-month old with an appreciation of music that far exceeded her years and was a student of Allisongs for Tots up until the time of her diagnosis of neuroblastoma in May of 2012. Neuroblastoma, a pediatric cancer that commonly affects children under the age of five is the third most common childhood cancer after leukemia. Once diagnosed, Teeja and her family began a bravely fought, painful three-year journey that ultimately ended in her death in January of 2015. Wilkins would often visit Teeja in her hospital room to help provide some joy and reduce anxiety due to her treatments.
“Seeing how much comfort she gained through music, I knew it was time to resurrect my songbook ideas, beginning with Monsters Are Afraid Of Music,” said Wilkins. “I hope it not only helps children fighting horrific battles and those who have endured trauma, but also those children who face no fear at all at this point in their life. Once fear is encountered, they will be better equipped to handle it through music.”
To bring Monsters Are Afraid Of Music to life, Wilkins turned to her daughter Elizabeth Galbraith to illustrate. She reached out to Jim Morris of Tampa’s Morrisound Studios to do the musical arrangement and production. The team at Dade City-based The Creative Stable colorized Galbraith’s illustrations and did the book design. The first 100 hardback copies were gone in less than two weeks. Only a few copies remain of the second 100 printed. The book is now in production for a multi-thousand print run of board books, which will be available in April of this year.
Meredith Grau, a licensed Mental Health Counselor, Certified Child Life Specialist, and assistant Clinic director for Bay Area Behavioral Services, expressed how much Monsters Are Afraid Of Music means to both her young son and her practice. Grau, who specializes in counseling children who have undergone trauma, has never seen a book that can reach the youngest among her patients. Grau discovered the book while attending an Allisongs for Tots class with her twenty-month-old son.
“Monsters Are Afraid Of Music quickly became one of his favorite books,” explains Grau. “We sing the song together—in fact, he’ll hand me the phone so I can play it while we read the book. It’s such an empowering story, and the musical component helps very young children respond to it in a positive, memorable way.”
The book relies upon the basic principals of music therapy—that music helps children overcome fear, pain and confusion through not only the distraction of focusing on something else, but also on a very deep visceral level. According to Neuroscientist Valorie Salimpoor, a researcher at McGill University’s Montreal Neurological Institute, music stimulates the same pleasure centers in children as does eating, nursing, or being held.
“My philosophy is simple,” said Wilkins. “Singing is good for us.”
For Marie McBride, the book couldn’t have been published at a better time. The mother of two sets of twins, twin girls ages three and twin boy and girl ages 16 months, McBride had been trying to find a solution to help her three-year-olds with fear of monsters at night. When they first brought the book home, they listened, read, sang along dozens of times, and learned the song by heart. Now, one sister quietly sings the song to the other, and the listening sister thanks her each night for singing the monsters away. McBride, a former social worker, said it was the only solution-focused approach she had found to help her daughters overcome their fear.
“It was a real game changer for us. Not only does this book encourage reading, it gives children a strategy for dealing with their fears that really works. It empowers them to know they can do it on their own; any time, and anywhere,” said McBride.
A portion of the proceeds from the sale of Monsters Are Afraid Of Music will be sent to Bloomingdale, Illinois-based Children’s Neuroblastoma Cancer Foundation (CNCF). The Foundation is the premier source for neuroblastoma information and resources and is committed to finding a cure for neuroblastoma through research, education, awareness, and advocacy.
“With neuroblastoma, many of the patients are really young and not equipped to process their thoughts and emotions. Particularly with toddlers, music helps soothe them and gives them a distraction while they’re singing and not so focused on what’s happening at the moment,” said Pat Tallungan, founder and president of CNCF.
The family and friends of Nick Tallungan, who lost a courageous battle with neuroblastoma at the age of 10, created CNCF in 2002. Today, it is a global organization with a singular focus – to find a cure.
“It is my hope that we can raise a substantial amount of funds for neuroblastoma research,” said Wilkins. “That is one monster no child should ever have to face.”
The book is now being utilized in playgroups at the Baby Bungalow on West Azeele Street in Tampa. Baby Bungalow is an early childhood resource center for parents and caregivers that focuses on children’s needs from birth to age five—the ages targeted by Monsters Are Afraid Of Music. Baby Bungalow started in 1999 as part of the Any Baby, Any Family Enrichment Program of Champions for Children in collaboration with the Health Start Coalition of Hillsborough County and Children’s Board Hillsborough County. April Beck, lead child development specialist for Baby Bungalow, feels the book addresses the subject of fear and monsters in a non-threatening, age-appropriate way.
“Families don’t come to us because their children are dealing with trauma,” said Beck. “But just overhearing the news is frightening for young children. This book is developmentally oriented for children who are just learning what it is to feel afraid and how to cope with that emotion even before they can adequately communicate it.”
Monsters Are Afraid Of Music is the first of five titles Wilkins is now working on. The next book, What Is A Snore For?, is currently under development. All of the board books are accompanied by a download code for its corresponding song.
About The Author: Singer/songwriter Allison Wilkins, lovingly known by her students as “Ms. Alli” has spent a lifetime of singing with children of all ages. She is the owner of Allisongs For Tots, LLC, which teaches music to children ages zero to five through a research-based curriculum developed by Music Together in eight locations in the Tampa Bay area. Monsters Are Afraid Of Music was published in 2015, and is now in its third printing. Board books will be available for purchase in April of 2016. Four more titles are now in development by this author. To learn more or order a copy, please visit: http://allisongsfortots.com/category/3588/Ms._Alli’s_Story_Books
To listen to the song that accompanies Monsters Are Afraid Of Music, please visit http://www.allisongsfortogs.com/monsters-mp3.html