In the back corner of Parnassus Books on Hillsboro Pike, about a dozen tiny kids and their parents are milling around, waiting on Nashville children’s performer Emily Arrow. When Arrow walks in and sits on a child-size bench, her ukulele — which is named Bow — in hand, the kids are rapt. Before she begins, a little boy runs over and plops down right in front of her cross-legged.
Arrow’s performances pair children’s books with original songs she writes to go with them. She starts this set with a reading and then a song based on Are We There, Yeti? — author Ashlyn Anstee’s book about Bigfoot driving a school bus. Arrow performs every Thursday afternoon at Parnassus, but her biggest audience is on YouTube: The video for one of her more popular songs, which goes along with Salina Yoon’s book Be a Friend, has almost 150,000 views.
Before becoming a children’s performer, Arrow was a music teacher for three years at a performing arts elementary school in Los Angeles. During her first week teaching, she came across some picture books that she thought she could write songs for.
“I started finding out as I was teaching music that pairing these books with music was a great tool for literacy,” says the 27-year-old. “It was helping support students and helping them to understand narrative and character development and theme and plot.”Arrow says her “magical lucky break” came after she wrote a song to go along with The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds. She says Reynolds was incredibly supportive, which indicated other authors probably would be too.
“All the authors I’ve worked with have been great,” says Arrow. “They see the value of what I’m doing, and I’ve experienced some really great friendships with these authors.”
After quitting her teaching job, Arrow toured libraries and elementary schools all over the U.S. and Canada for two years. She eventually settled on Nashville as her home. In September, Arrow opened a space, Singalong Shop in the The Shoppes on Fatherland in East Nashville. She’ll keep doing storytime at Parnassus on Thursdays in addition to a special Sunday storytime at her space. She’ll also film her YouTube videos and teach ukulele workshops for parents at the shop. Arrow says she opened Singalong Shop to try to create a community around music and literacy.
“Parents tell me that they have very hesitant readers at home,” says Arrow, “but if they listen to a song or watch my YouTube video that has a song with a book, they immediately run and grab the book or gravitate toward the book at the library. And that’s exactly why I do this.” AMANDA HAGGARD