The Stewart C. Meyer Harker Heights Public Library bounced to the beat Wednesday at its Early Child Literacy Workshop that featured a performance by award-winning children’s musician Joe McDermott.

McDermott performed several self-composed songs that communicate with children through engaging stories, including “I am Baby,” “What’s Not to Love About a Skunk?” and “Way Out West.”

The library has hosted the event for seven years, this year drawing in more than 120 guests to sing, dance, read and learn. Parents and children were free to explore seven booths presenting local libraries, tools for child literacy and word-powered games.

“We want to celebrate early literacy,’” Library Director Lisa Youngblood said. “We believe in the ‘whole child.’ We want healthy children, in mind and body.

“We look at play as the work of childhood so in addition to reading and book stations, we have games to develop gross motor skills as well,” Youngblood said. “We’re preparing children for the decoding that will be happening in their brains at a later stage that will help them on their way to becoming adults down the road. At the same time, we’re also providing opportunities for parents to learn more about child development, meet other parents, and speak with service providers about literacy and growth.”

The library encourages parents to help children develop six important pre-reading skills as early as birth, including narrative skills: being able to describe things and events and tell stories, print motivation: being interested in and enjoying books, vocabulary: knowing the name of things, print awareness: noticing print, knowing how to handle a book and knowing how to follow the words on a page, letter knowledge: knowing letters are different from each other, knowing their names and sounds and recognizing letters everywhere, and phonological awareness: being able to hear and play with the smaller sounds in words.

Lindsi Bradley, of Killeen, said she enjoys bringing her daughter, Tynli, 3, to the library’s programs for toddlers.

“Tynli likes to interact, dance, and sing,” Bradley said. “We try to go somewhere at least three days a week that does interaction with her. Harker Heights Library is our toddler hub.”

“I like singing songs,” Tynli added.

Erin Bowles, of Copperas Cove, said she and her son, Steven, 1, both love coming to the library.

“We think this is just awesome,” Bowles said. “They show that music and reading are fun. We’re at the library all the time for story time and we always try to make it out to special events like this.”

McDermott has dabbled in the arts since he was a child. An empty coffee can and a pair of drumsticks sparked a passion for creative rhythm in the young McDermott.

Being the youngest of eight kids, he didn’t allow his inferiority to yield his talents. At age 5, McDermott performed his first gig with his brother at a Harlem Globetrotters show.

After high school, McDermott moved to Austin to further his education at the University of Texas, where he earned his Fine Arts degree.

Meanwhile, he invested time in learning how to play the guitar. Following graduation, McDermott longed to make an impression in the art world, so he accepted a job as an art teacher at Athena Montessori in Austin.

His first nationally distributed CD, “I Am Baby,” won a Parents’ Choice Recommended Honor in 1998; and both “Great Big World” (2001) and “Everywhere You Go” (2003) won the esteemed Parents’ Choice Silver Honor Award.

McDermott was honored with his first NAPPA Gold Award for “Everywhere You Go,” which includes the Children’s Music Web Award-winning song, “Baby Kangaroo.” This song also captured a second place prize in the International Song Writing Contest, Children’s Division in 2005.

In 2007, McDermott released his fourth family music CD, “Everybody Plays Air Guitar,” which received a Parents’ Choice Recommended Honor.

Many songs from all four releases are in regular rotation on XMKids Radio.

McDermott, also called “The Maestro of Imagination,” has performed for children over a run of 30 years, beginning in 1987, leaving a trail of smiles in his wake.

“It’s great getting to come to Harker Heights again, I love performing here,” McDermott said. “When I perform, it’s all about fun and laughter. My inspiration for songs comes from the kids.”

kbouchard@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7542

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