Music company Hal Leonard and Disney recently announced the release of three Children's activity storybooks in a series that they collaborated on called "Explore Music." These books Include "Moana: The Beat of Your Heart," "Tangled," and "Mickey's Found Sounds." Each of the books entices children to learn about different cultures, values, and songs and music. They also include craft-making directions and more.

Hal Leonard lead a team of writers, designers, and artists during the formation of these hardcover, fully-illustrated, books that are intended for ages four and up and include lots of opportunities for musical exploration.

Emily Holt Crocker is one of the individuals who worked on the Book series.

Emily is a music expert who taught in Texas public schools for fifteen years and the founder of the acclaimed Milwaukee Children’s Choir and the Vocal Arts Academy of Milwaukee. A composer as well as a teacher and organizer, Emily has performed her musical scores globally and received an ASCAP award, a Distinguished Citizen Award for her Professional in the Arts, and an Outstanding Service Award from the Texas Choral Directors Association.

In an exclusive interview, Emily recently discussed her experiences working on the Hal Leonard book series and her beliefs about why music is such an essential part of young people’s education and life.

Benefits of music and reading

Meagan Meehan (MM): What benefits do children garner from reading and music?

Emily Holt Crocker (EHC): Singing, playing instruments, and learning music are wonderful ways for children and parents to bond and nurture physical, social and emotional development together. A child’s first and best teacher is the parent, and these books make it easy for parents, even those who are not specifically trained in music to encourage music making at the earliest ages.

MM: When did you decide to create story books centered on music?

EHC: We have a long tenure in creating music education materials for school age children, and we have a long relationship in publishing Disney songbooks. With these Disney Learning publications, we have merged the two, creating music learning books aimed at the home/preschool consumer.

MM: How did you come to collaborate with Disney?

EHC: The Disney Learning division approached us with the concept. They had been developing similar literature with other publishers for science, language arts, math, and the like, and were looking for a music partner. Disney had commissioned a study by an early childhood music curriculum specialist regarding the ways children learn and develop musical skills. When we reviewed these documents, we immediately saw that their learning goals for music coincided perfectly with our publishing philosophy. Likewise, our design team was quite familiar with working with Disney art assets, so it seemed like a good fit.

MM: Each of the books in this series is very different, so how did you decide to give each one such a unique spin?

EHC: We first identified what we felt were the most important elements for learning music at the preschool level: 1) singing; 2) exploring sound-makers through creative play; 3) developing skill in feeling and demonstrating the beat of the music. Then, with the help of the Disney team, we matched these to the most likely Disney brand: 1) Tangled; 2) Mickey and Friends; 3) Moana.

We immersed ourselves in the original stories and the opportunities presented by the original Disney art and developed original narratives that illustrated our music objectives. The goal of singing in "Tangled" allows children to explore their voice in creative ways. If you listen to children playing, they have no inhibitions about singing high or low, fast or slow, or using their voice to express themselves creatively.

With Mickey’s Found Sounds, children can explore sound-makers in their environment. Then, parents and children can enjoy creative craft time assembling the materials and making the instruments and then playing them for friends and families.

For Moana, in addition to feeling and playing the steady beat, children have the opportunity to learn about the instruments of the islands, how they sound and how they are played. We also worked with Disney to create some custom art specifically for our book. Plus, all the stories are fun to read!

Crafts, books, and the future

MM: The Mickey book has some great ideas for making instruments! Who thought up these crafts?

EHC: A couple of us on the editorial team used our own experiences from the classroom and supplemented those with research, then we joined with our art team to make the instruments and try them out.

Our recording producer then incorporated the sounds of these actual homemade instruments into our online music activities.

MM: What kind of feedback have you gotten from fans and readers?

EHC: It’s all been extremely positive, so far. Once our readers have the books in their hands, they can go online (smart phone, tablet, computer) to hear and sing-along with an original song created by our music team that reinforces the music concept being presented in each book. There is also a read-along edition of the story and online crafts for children and parents.

MM: Do you plan to release more books in this series and, be honest, do you have a favorite story?

EHC: The music curriculum has ten different elements of music to explore, so there is potential for additional stories, plus Disney has new films and television series every year, so I hope so!

As per favorites, I like them all, but I learned the most from Moana, since the instruments are so different. I had to do lots of research, and I got to work with an authentic drumming consultant. But I also love the Tangled story, since singing is central to all music. And Mickey’s Found Sounds is such a beautifully designed book!

MM: What have been the best experiences you've had during your career in publishing and are you currently working on anything new?

EHC: That is an interesting question! After fifteen years of teaching in the public schools and twenty-nine years with Hal Leonard, I have just retired! These Disney books were a different experience for me and allowed me to collaborate with a whole new group of amazing people.

There have been challenging times, of course, but that is what learning is all about. I have always enjoyed my work in writing and editing and found it to be very rewarding, especially when the result is as beautiful and aesthetically pleasing as these books. Music can make beautiful children (and adults!), and I’m happy to have been part of a team that makes that happen.

In retirement, I will continue to compose music and learning resources for children and teens on a free-lance basis, including Disney Learning or other similar publications. I also encourage parents and caregivers to make music with their children every day! We are all born with music within us, and the benefits are incredible!