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Book Reviews of Domino by Karen Ellis

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60 Traditional Children's Songs, Games, Proverbs, and Culture from the American Virgin Islands
45 minute Live Sound Field Recording


Authentic Live Sound Field Recoring of Children's Songs from the American Virgin Islands

*Keywords for Cybrarians, Librarians, Media and Technology Specialists

West Indian Culture, Virgin Islands, Caribbean Music, Folksongs, Folklore, Ebonics, ESL, Linguistics, Black History Month Social Studies, American History, Afro American Studies, Juvenile Literature, Popular Culture, Games, Elementary Music Education, Orff Shulwerk, Kodaly, Recreation, Proverbs, Interdisciplinary Educational Curriculum, Thematic Reading Curriculum, Technology Sites, Search Tools, Web Site Development Tools


Los Angeles Times, July 29, 1990
"DOMINO teaches the chants, clap patterns and jump - rope songs of the Virgin Islands, with a cassette recorded on playgrounds of St. Croix by author Karen S. Ellis; the syncopated rhythms are irresistible, and some of the lyrics quite salty."

The Orff Echo, Fall 1990, page 44
"All material is clearly presented with precise and easy-to-understand directions for the games and dances. To maintain authenticity, the words of the songs are written in a mixture of standard English and Cruzian, the dialect of St. Croix. A glossary is provided to assist with unfamiliar words and phrases. Especially interesting is the author's account of her use of an Orff Schulwerk-based approach to teach language skills to the children in a small island town. The accompanying cassette tape, available separately, includes nearly all of the items in the book, most of it performed by the children themselves. No one should miss the priceless rendition of "Ding Dong."

The Midwest Book Review, May 26, 1990
An oversized paperback with spiral binging and a 35 minute audio cassette introduce both adult and child listeners to traditional children's songs and proverbs from the American Virgin Islands, providing a unique opportunity to absorb the culture and sounds of an area which has received relatively little attention.
An oversized paperback and 35 minute cassette provides a unique opportunity to absorb the culture and sounds of an area which has received relatively little attention. More than just another ethnic song collection, the tape alone holds merit, the paperback/tape package is recommended above each singly: the book is an essential enhancement to the tape, offering a political and cultural review of the Virgin Islands, teaching advice to teachers who may be considering the tape and workbook for classroom use, and illustrated musical instructions and score sheets for the tape's songs. The small black and white photos of the children at play are particularly intriguing." (old link, won't work now)

Come-All-Ye, Vol. II No. 2, Summer 1990 A Review Journal for publications in the fields of Folklore, American Studies, Social History and Popular Culture by Edith Fowke

Edith Fowke wrote: "Karen Ellis spent a number of years in St. Croix, the easternmost of the U.S., Virgin Islands, and immersed herself in the island culture. She taught second grade in a local school and found herself fascinated with their play. She began to record them, and this collection is basically the sone songs and chants she noted. Some 50 different games are grouped under Clap Patterns, Spoken Chants and Songs, Circle Gam4es, Line Dances and Call & Respose. Ms. Ellis tells how whe used each in her teaching. A number of the songs can be heard on the accompanying cassette.
Many of the items are slightly altered versions of familiar rhymes, such as "Dutch Girl", Miss Mary had a Baby", "Solomon Grundy" and "Sally Sally Water". Some are more unusual, but on reading them one finds that they nearly always incorporate verses from well-known rhymes. The St. Croix culture and the Anglo-American fragments make for an interesting study, as do the numerous sayings and proverbs scattered throughout the pages. Each proverb is given in the local dialect with an English interpretation: "If yo' play wid dog, he lick you' mout' " translates to "Familiarity breeds contempt". It is a thoroughly delightful compilation, of interest to folklorists, teachers, and everybody else can enjoy it."

Canadian folklorist Edith Fowke receives posthumous award THE ARTS REPORT - CBC Radio
The Folk Alliance conference has bestowed a posthumous lifetime achievement award on Edith Fowke, the first Canadian to win the award. Fowke is credited with bringing to light and preserving a vast amount of folk music. Fowke was born in Lumsden, Saskatchewan in 1913. She spent years visiting people in rural areas documenting and recording their local songs. In 1957 she began producing recordings for New York's Folkway Records. She also wrote and edited books of folk songs and folk tales, and edited The Canadian Folk Music Journal. She joined the English Department at York University in 1971. Fowke was made a Fellow of the American Folklore Society in 1975, and became a member of the Order of Canada in 1977. She died in 1996. In memoriam Edith Fowke

Bucks County Midweek, February 28, 1991 - 4-A "More than sugar cane has roots in Virgin Islands" by Kathleen Smith

"Teddy bear, teddy bear, turn around
Teddy bear, teddy bear, touch the ground..."

Thus begin the lyrics of a jump-rope chant familiar to children all over America. It is also an inclusion in Domino by Karen Ellis.

Ellis, a resident of Bala Cynwyd, is a new member of The Bucks-Mont Writer's Network.

Domino is a collection of children's songs, proverbs and culture gathered from the Virgin Islands — a forgotten part of America, according to Ellis.

The playground picks were compiled during the years she taught at an elementary school on the island of St. Croix. Ellis initially used the Calypso rhythms as a means of communicating with Cruzian children. Cruzians speak a dialect of English that uses words and phrases traced to African languages, remnant from a large slave population imported to work the sugar cane plantations. Ellis said that teaching the children standard English was quite literally like teaching them a foreign language, and the songs provided a common starting ground.

Celebrate Black History

The Domino set contains an illustrated songbook with photographs depicting hand-play and body movements, and a cassette-tape recording of rhythmic-fun selections.

It took Ellis 10 years to bring the project to its finished form self-published under Guavaberry Books.

"The time is right for it now. There has been a great increase in interest in ethnic music. It wouldn't have been so well received ten years ago," she said.

Being well-received means it is included in bookstores at the Philadelphia Art Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Royal Ontario Museum in Ontario, Canada, as well as libraries in Los Angeles County. Locally, the book also can be found in the bookstores and libraries of the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University— Ellis' alma mater— and in Montgomery County libraries and Legacy Books in Hatboro.

The Library of Congress carries two versions of Domino, the retail selection and an edition in the folklore archives that "contains "every single thing I collected," said Ellis.

"I like the feeling of knowing it will be in the Library of Congress forever. I have a strong emotional attachment to St. Croix and it makes me feel I have given something back — I've frozen a piece of time," Ellis explained.

Although the material contained would hardly raise eye- brows at the Parents Music Resource Center — the agency that supports labeling to warn parents of explicit lyrics — this is not "Raffi in Concert." Some of the lyrics are spicy, but done with a childhood innocence that adds refreshing insight into the ways children interact within their society.

Ellis said that she was somewhat perplexed at first, knowing this would limit outright acceptance as a children's production.

"When it came to the issue of authenticity, there wasn't a decision at all. There's no way to edit or change lyrics that may not be politically correct. "If you do, then it has no meaning as folklore," said Ellis.

Although geared toward music teachers. Domino crosses over to other educational areas, including Afro-American and folklore studies. Its complex rhythm patterns are used as teaching aids in remedial reading programs.

Additionally, Ellis said it's for "anyone who wants to laugh, sing and have fan."

Domino is available through Guavaberry Books.


Dr. John Rickford
Department of Linguistics

Stanford University

CA 94305-2150.
Web Site
Rickford Ph.D, John . (1997, Feb. 28).

Review of Book and Cassette "Domino".

I recieved Domino, and was impressed both by the book and the tape. It was enjoyable for my wife Angela and I -- the similarities with so many songs we knew growing up in Guyana were so striking, especially for Angela. (As your photos show, these clap patterns and circle songs are more popular with girls than boys.) For instance, for "Brown Girl in the Ring," we sing, "There's a Colored girl in the ring, etc" and end with "She likes sugar, and I like plum!"

WRT the "Congo Saw" proverb on page 22 - -I'm pretty sure this is the same as the "Conguseh" we have in Guyana, meaning "gossip," so the proverb really means that gossip is worse, more harmful than working obeah. See the entry for _congosa_ in Allsopp's wonderful, just released _Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage_ (Oxford U Press).

Also, the wording for Mother Goose on page 39 seemed to us perhaps to be "Come look a me ya" ("Come look at me here") but it wasn't so clear. This is a wonderful achievement, Karen, and the kids must have LOVED the attention and interest you showed in them and their songs. I bet they missed you when you left.

Dr. John Baugh
Department of Linguistics, Stanford University

Web Site:
Baugh Ph.D, John . (1997, March 20).
Review of book and cassette Domino.

I took a close look at your materials and I think they could work, as is, for classes of students -- African American or otherwise -- who would like to know more about Caribbean history and enhance their literacy at the same time.

Baugh Ph.D, John . (1997, March 12).
Review of Book and Cassette Domino.
I think you've got the right idea, at least for an open minded teacher. WIth the net, as you observe, the potential to reach wider is greater.

Dept of Linguistics, Stanford University, Stanford,CA 94305-2150.

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