Language & autism (4)
Language & gender (4)
Selective mutism (3)
Developing children's communication (8)
Children's emotions (5)
Children and introversion (2)
High sensitivity (2)
Language & maths (3)
Improving adult communication (3)
Children and ICT (2)
Children & sleep (2)
Improving storytime & assembly (2)
Building vocabulary (3)

Bad Breath!
Understanding mood swings
The silent phase of EAL
Overcoming stage fright
Food poverty/language poverty
Children and trains
Speech sounds
Nelson Mandela tribute
Combating low self-esteem
Children and colour
Men and childcare
Non-verbal communication
Language and autism
'Small talk'
Children's behaviour
Music and feelings
Spelling problems
Describing children accurately
Sharing books with children
Singing and language

I’m in love with the monkey’s uncle: or the power of music and books to build emotional associations, (with help from The Beach Boys and The Fendertones!)

Date posted: Saturday 11th May 2013

Monkey's Uncle‘I’m in love with the Monkey’s Uncle, and the Monkey’s Uncle’s ape for me. Yeah, yeah. yeah!’ Possibly the worst lyrics of all time? Maybe, but it’s by The Beach Boys and this song has very powerful associations for me. Let’s go back to 1966: The World Cup, the Beatles dominating the world, and me as a nine year-old.

We got our first telly in 1966 and somehow I missed the World Cup final. But I did manage to see Disney’s screwball comedy film ‘The Monkey’s Uncle.’ What a film! It made a massive impression on little Michael Jones. What really stuck in my mind was the opening credit sequence, which featured the Beach Boys and Annette Funicello performing the title song. The tune instantly stuck in my head (Though I couldn’t understand how when Brian Wilson sang his lips moved out of synch with the soundtrack. I now realise it’s possibly the worst example of miming this side of David Bowie singing The Jean Genie on Top of the Pops.*) And the dancing! Incredible stuff! Young men wearing suits, white shirts and ties, dancing just like dads at weddings always do (top of your body goes one way, your legs and feet go the other, while your hips remained fixed).

I think I was a very sensitive child. Little things made very big impressions on me and created powerful associations that remained with me for years. When I was five I was given an illustrated nursery rhyme book. I loved the illustrations, though some of them were quite bizarre. An image of Humpty Dumpty lying on the pavement with his head smashed open and his yolk and white oozing out into the gutter would now be deemed unsuitable. My favourite illustration was for ‘Oranges and Lemons’. I can see the illustration now: a dandy, not unlike Charles I, is walking along the street and has taken his silk handkerchief out of his pocket. Several silver coins have fallen out and some little pixie folk with very cheeky grins on their faces are grabbing the loose change and making off with it.

I had my appendix removed at the end of the 1966 summer holidays and was off school for a month. When I returned, the class had been taught long division. In those days you never revisited a subject, so I just couldn’t grasp how you could divide 289 by 13, and why, if you didn’t put your remainder in exactly the right box the whole sum would be wrong. More was to follow. At the beginning of a history lesson about the Great Fire of London, our class teacher, Mr Hassman, was talking about famous buildings in London. He mentioned St. Clement Danes, St. Martin in the Fields, The Old Bailey etc. Did anyone in the class know why he was introducing us to these famous monuments? I saw my chance to prove that it was only long division that was my weak spot. Up shot my hand.

“Because a dandy is walking along the street and he has taken a silk handkerchief out of his pocket and he has dropped some silver coins and little fairy folk are making off with them!”

More was to follow. After break we had poetry. “Does anyone know any lines of poetry?”

Here was another chance. “Every day that my monkey shines (ooh woo wee ooh)/It feels just like a Valentines/I love the monkey’s uncle/And I wish I was the monkey’s aunt (Yeah, yeah, yeah.)”

After lunch I was asked to see Mother Superior. Was everything alright at home? How was the operation? If anything was bothering me I was just to knock on the door of welfare anytime and I could have a chat with Sister Columba.

More was to follow. The next day I was moved to the special table, with Paul Simpson (“If he chews paper any more, I swear I’ll send him to a doctor!”); Glenn Shields (“He’s from a broken home, you know.”) Christina Rankin (”She has a weak ‘r’: Such an infliction.”) and Tommy O’Connell (“I taught the brother last year. That says it all.”) God only knows what they said about me in the staff room.

So what is this all about? It’s about the flood of associations that instantly filled my mind the other day when by accident I came across The Fendertones on You Tube singing their cover version of Monkey’s Uncle. It’s brilliant, and I never thought I’d hear myself say this: it’s better than The Beach Boys’ original. It reminds me that many children have favourite books and songs. The Tiger Who Came to Tea, with its strange storyline and very distinctive illustrations, remains a firm favourite with young children across the UK. Many Disney films and songs have powerful childhood associations for adults, as do TV theme tunes and even adverts. They instantly bring back to mind periods in our childhoods that have many associations that were built up without us realising it: smells, sights, impressions, friends, weather, toys, the local neighbourhood, family sayings and meals. It’s powerful stuff.

Frog and ToadWe are pleased that children have books and songs that are firm favourites, because it is great for their literacy. But do we think of the influence we are having on their lives in general? This is why sharing stories with children; individually and in groups, is so important. Yes, for literacy, but also for building up powerful emotional associations. I was in a café a few years ago, near where I used to teach. A group of teenagers were looking at me and pointing. One of them approached me and said, “Are you Mr Jones? You used to teach me in Year 1. We were laughing about the time you read us Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel and you stood on your head, banged your head against the wall and poured a glass of water on Dylan’s head! That was my favourite book for years and I shall never forget that as long as I live!”

One four-year-old I know loves two books more than any others: The Big Red Bus and The Train Journey. His favourite song is the theme tune to Postman Pat. I wonder what associations will come flooding back to him if as an adult he ever sees those books, or hears the theme tune. I just hope he keeps his appendix and learns how to do long division.

* Actually Bowie sang live. I just wanted to mention him because he was magnificent. Google Bowie You Tube Top of the Pops Jean Genie to witness David getting in touch with his feminine side.

Sign up for Michael's weekly blog post by clicking here!

Share this post!

7 responses to “I’m in love with the monkey’s uncle: or the power of music and books to build emotional associations, (with help from The Beach Boys and The Fendertones!)”

  1. Karen Jones says:

    All so true as always, Michael.

    On this subject I checked out the bowie link and was taken back to my own childhood, I loved Bowie but had no idea what he was singing about,it didn’t matter, I thought his voice was great and those eyes! Just watching the link bought back memories of that time and remembering the tank tops just like the girls in the video. This then opened the flood gates and one qmemory led to another. My nan knitted the tank tops, my sister and I had matching tank tops …… And on it goes.

    Thanks for the happy trip down memory lane, I hope my children and the ones I work with can look back on aspects of their childhood with such fondness,

    Kindest regards

    • Michael Jones says:

      Hi Karen
      I put the Bowie link in for a bit of fun. I was a huge fan when I was 15 to 16 but didn’t get the Diamond Dogs and Young Americans stuff. It took me a while to realise that he’s really an actor. We loved Top of the Pops and the weekly chart rundown, and it all came in very handy when I was 18 and worked with a teenager with learning disability who has a tremendous memory and loved to talk about the charts. We were totally on the same wavelength, which was great.
      I did get to meet a six year old boy who was fascinated by opera.
      I had a tank top too!
      Best wishes

  2. Barbara says:

    I had an interesting conversation with a four year old boy last week. He informed me that he four today and that he was having Star Wars presents. I commented that I had Lego Star Wars on the XBox. My street cred. Immediately went up several points and from that point was a friend he could talk to. The conversation took off until he asked if I knew the Darth Vader song. Thinking that he had made up his own song I replied ‘No’. ‘Would I like him to sing it’ ‘ yes please’ I said. He then went on to hum the music from the film, persevering until he completed the whole movement ‘Dum,dum,dum,dah,dah,dum,dah, dah,,dum…… I know from my own experience with my own sons that this song and story will stay with him into adulthood. It may not be one of the classics but it gave him and I a common meeting point through which we could share talk and ideas. A special experience for me and I hope the same for him.

    • Michael Jones says:

      Hi Barbara!!
      Star Wars is really popular with some children, and is often a passion they share with their dads! Lego figures have really taken off in a big way too. I’m not a real fan of either, but make it my business to know as much as I can so that I can have informed conversations. I’m not a huge Disney fan, but so many children and adults have grown up with the films, images and music that they are part of children’s cultural heritage (and that is something to children of all cultures, so it’s important for us to share that.
      Best wishes

  3. Patricia Blakey Lodge says:

    Dear Michael, I just want to say that I really look forward to getting these posts, and always enjoy reading them, as they are so individual and interesting-I wish more people would give their comments.
    This latest one made me think about how important books are to me, not just the contents but how they look, the print choice, the illustrations, the quality of the paper, and how this was started for me in childhood by the books my mother and I chose for me (and thus led me to get jobs in publishing houses reading, proof-reading, etc., when I left university). It probably also led to my interest in art and art history…it’s only an interest and an A level, not a career, obviously, I’m a practitioner, but it all goes to show that a book or two with pixies in it (was yours illustrated by Hilda Boswell, by any chance?) can really have an impact on, or bring out, whichever, your personality.

    • Michael Jones says:

      Hi Patricia
      Thank you for your kind comments. Children are very impressionable, and live in a sensory world.books and music are so important, and the illustrations are often vital for the impression a good book makes. The Tiger Who Came to Tea seems to appeal to children and adults alike, though I have to admit never did anything for me.
      However I loved Edward Ardizzone’s illustrations and was quite scared of Arthur Rackham’s work.
      ‘Goblin Market’ by Eleanor Farjeon still really bothers me.
      Best wishes

  4. John Rice says:

    A friend of mine, a former headteacher with a wealth of experience and blessed with the wisdom of Solomon, often refers to ‘the thousand story’ gap. When four year olds enter school some will bring with them no knowledge of story, indeed some have to be taught what a book is for. Others will have had a bedtime story, perhaps two, every night for the past three years, hence a thousand stories.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *