Magic Penny Award

2008: Bill Harley

A Grammy award-winning artist, Bill Harley uses song and story to paint a vibrant and hilarious picture of growing up, schooling and family life. Bill has been writing and performing for kids and families for over twenty years. His work spans the generation gap, reminds us of our common humanity and challenges us to be our very best selves. On September 21, 2008, at its annual gathering in Zion, Illinois, the Children's Music Network presented Bill Harley with perhaps the most cherished honor in Children's Music: the Magic Penny Award. Each year since 1999 CMN has given this award to an individual whose work over the years has celebrated the positive power of music in children's lives.

Bill Harley has the uncanny ability to reaffirm life
for listeners, be they five or fifty....
– Penguin Books

A prolific author and recording artist, Bill is also a regular commentator for NPR's All Things Considered and is featured on PBS. He joined the National Storytelling Network's Circle of Excellence in 2001 and tours nationwide as an author and performing artist. With twenty-five recordings of songs and stories and eight children's books to his credit, Bill's humorous yet meaningful work chronicles the lives of children at school and at home.

Bill tours nationally as a solo artist as well as with his pianist/co-conspirator Keith Munslow. As a storyteller, Bill has appeared numerous times at the prestigious National Storytelling Festival and at dozens of other regional festivals from California to Florida. You'll find Bill's stories and off-beat observations in numerous anthologies and magazines. In the past several years, Bill has spent considerable time writing. Among his picture books are Sitting Down To Eat, which was selected as an ABA Pick of the list; Dear Santa and Dirty Joe the Pirate: A True Story. The Amazing Flight of Darius Frobisher, his first novel for elementary students won several awards including Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Books of the Year. He is currently working on a series of books featuring a lively fourth grade boy and, his second novel, Night of the Spadefoot Toads is due out in October of 2008.

Bill’s songs are direct and honest, his stories are filled with the details of daily life, and everything he does has a dose of fantasy mixed with reality. Since 1984, Bill has been producing recordings for families that have become staples in the car, at home, in classrooms and ipods. In addition to the Grammy, he has received numerous other national awards including Parents’ Choice, ALA (American Library Association), NAPPA (The National Parenting Publications Award) and AFIM (Association for Independent Music). Bill's recordings are filled with joyous music and masterful stories. If you ask a kid their favorite they'll show you their entire Bill Harley collection—books, DVDs, CDs. They are all winners!

In the end Bill considers his real work to be using his skills to encourage his audience to see the world anew and to experience “live art”, to honor the emotional lives of children and adults and finally, to pass along a love of language and music.

“Everybody worries about things being ‘educational’ with kids. I believe everything is educational, in that it says something about how one looks at the world—it imparts a knowledge, or world-view. Children learn more from context than they do from explicit lessons. They learn vocabulary and language not from a dictionary or worksheet, but from conversation. They learn songs not from reading music, but from singing with someone who loves to sing, and they learn hope and kindness and cooperation not from being told to have them, but by experiencing them.” Bill Harley

Photo: Bill Harley

Bill, holding the
award, responds.

Photo: Bill HarleyPhotos by Will Hale

Bill shares the moment with his wife
and business manager, Debbie Block

Photo: 2008 Magic Penny mp-photosPhotos by Alvin McGovern

The award, a ceramic mask,
reflects themes from some of Bill's songs.

Award designer: Harriet Morton – Tucson, AZ