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Belting it out at grass-roots level

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Creating entertainment for kids can be tricky. Whether you're a TV writer or a pop singer, there are lots of people to please beyond the kiddies. Parents. Stations. Sometimes even corporations. Yet despite commercial pressures, many artists are creating valuable children's fare at the grass-roots level.

Take music, for example. Last Friday, the winners of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest were announced. Of all the categories, children's music is one of the most competitive, says associate director Gregg Ross. "There's a wealth of really good material out there." Nearly 1,000 entries came in. Executive committee judges included Raffi and Tom Chapin.

First-place winner Al "Papa Rap" Lopez wrote "The Que Pasa Song," which repeats phrases in Spanish and English: "What's up?" "Where are you from?" and "Let's be friends." The Salsa-hip-hop inspired song was created to "bridge communication between Anglos and Hispanics in schools," says Mr. Lopez, who worked with Darren Novoutney and Rick Ebby.

Second-place team Tom "Tender" Polman and Kathy Norwine sing how to "Build a House" using sound effects: "With a hammer and a nail, go pound-pound-pound...." "You have to make it fun - to captivate kids," says Mr. Polman. In live performances, kids sing along and do arm movements like sawing wood. "You can see their enthusiasm; the kids feel successful," adds Ms. Norwine.

It's nice to know such entertainers are out there delighting children - without a doll or action figure in sight.

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