Children’s and Family Programs


For over forty years Jon Sundell has been sharing folk songs, tales and dances with children and families across the United States and several foreign countries – in Spanish as well as English. Through those experiences he has learned to engage and entertain any group of children or adults.

Accompanying himself on guitar, banjo, autoharp, mountain dulcimer, ukulele and spoons, Jon weaves together folk songs with multicultural folk tales of all kinds – from tall tales, myths and legends to animal tales and fairy tales. By presenting such variety in a warm and lively manner, he can easily gain and hold the attention of his audience.

However, he often draws on other tools as well: Sometimes he uses a puppet to help tell a story or converse with the audience. Or he creates a balloon figure as he tells, then uses it as a storytelling prop. This is especially nice with smaller groups because he can follow up his performance by making personal balloons for the audience members.

There are many opportunities for audience participation – through singing, movement, playing rhythm instruments, and responding verbally in different ways. But the greatest tools in Jon’s toolbox are his warm personality and lively, visceral style. He takes his audience on an adventure -through moments that are alternately funny, scary, exciting and thoughtful - building a spirit of community as he goes!

close-up guitar trimmed in back of bookm - Copy
Dia Stone group (3)

"Jon Sundell 'plays' an audience of children as well as he plays any of the instruments he brings to a concert. The pace is lively as he moves from song to instrumental to tall tale to sing-along, and the atmosphere is one of warmth and good humor where every child feels a part of the happening."

– Lynne Crocker, journalist, Arts Council of Wyndham County, VT.

In addition to his many years as a performer, Jon’s connection with kids is enhanced by thirty years of working as a children’s librarian in schools and public libraries. Over that time he was able to get to know and understand children well. Even when his focus is purely entertainment, he is able to go beyond the superficial and strike a deeper chord. And children and adults of various backgrounds feel affirmed as they see themselves reflected in his multicultural repertoire and spirit.

Vienna lib (3)
Interfaith storytelling creeping up (2)

"I felt your performances here were first rate. I received unanimously positive feedback from the kids and teachers. We were all impressed with your rapport with the kids of different grade levels, with your flexibility, your story-telling ability and your efforts to make the music and the culture come alive."
– Clay Stites, headmaster, Friends 
Academy, North Dartmouth, MA

Short video sampler for children & families. 11 minutes. Many suitable for adults as well. 01 - Introductory slides to Jon's studio recording of "My Daddy Rides That Ship In the Sky," by Woody Guthrie - with banjo; 00:35 - Making balloon dog, singing,"I Had a Dog and His Name Was Blue;" tall tale of "The Split Dog" using balloon dog; 3:18 - call & response song - "We're All A Family Under One Sky," by Ruth Pelham - with guitar; 4:02 - African trickster tale - "Anansi and the Hat Shaking Dance;" 6:35 - Story-song with banjo - "Cumberland Mountain Bear Chase;" 9:08 - Irish folk tale, "Jamie O' Rourke and the Big Potato," from book by Tomie de Paola; 9:52 - Latin American folk song with motions - "En la pulga de San Jose"

Community Sampler of Folk Songs & Tales. This 25 minute sampler of song and tale excerpts overlaps with the shorter sampler above. However it includes a longer version of Jamie O'Rourke, along with some history of the Irish potato famine, an Irish work song, and two other songs. And it presents the Old Blue numbers together, as normally performed. 1. "Old Blue" Medley: "I Had a Dog and His Name Was Blue," folk song (unaccompanied) sung while twisting a balloon dog, which is then used to help tell "Daniel Boone and His Split Dog." (Southern tall tale); "Cumberland Mountain Bear Chase" (story-song with clawhammer banjo);   2. "On My Grandma's Patchwork Quilt" - folk song by Larry Penn with motions by Jon Sundell, accompanied on guitar;  3. "Waterbound, and I Can't Get Home" - Appalachian folk song with mountain dulcimer;   4. "Anansi and

the Pot of Beans (Anansi and the Hat Shaking Dance)" - Ashanti animal trickster tale; 5. "We're All a Family Under One Sky" - folk song by Ruth Pelham with verses added by Jon Sundell from Bein' With You This Way,a picture book by W. Nikola-Lisa, accompanied on guitar;     6. "En la pulga de San Jose," - Latin American folk song in Spanish with motions, accompanied on guitar;  7. "Jamie O'Rourke and the Big Potato" - Irish folk tale taken from picture book by Tomie dePaola; slides of Irish potato famine;   8. "Paddie on the Railway" - Irish-American folk song, with fingerpicked banjo;   9. "When I First Came to this Land" - folk song by Oscar Brand with autoharp.


Library Background in Toddler and Preschool Storytimes

In addition to his many years performing and leading workshops with children of all ages, Jon spent 22 years as a children’s librarian in the Forsyth County Public Library. During most of this time he conducted weekly storytimes with toddlers, preschoolers and parents. Over those years he learned to connect and interact with these little ones, and he developed a repertoire of songs and tales to engage and excite them and their parents.

Repertoire and Techniques to Promote Interaction and  Engage the Very Young

  • Jon uses the banjo and guitar to set a lively pace and rhythm, and the autoharp for a lush melodic change.
  • Songs engage children verbally and physically through call & response, choral refrains, hand motions, and/ or sometimes full body movement.
  • Many of the tales involve children's participation in rhythmic or melodic chants or verses.
  • Jon often gets audience input to create a verse, suggest an animal, vegetable, or other item, or determine the course of a tale.

"Jon was perfect for our Little Folk Festival. The kids loved interacting with him and the parents did, too." – Cindy Tuttle, executive director, Stokes County Partnership for Children

Leadership in Children's Outreach

While serving as head of Forsyth County Public Library's Children's Outreach Department in the late 1990's Jon revolutionized its service to the county's day care centers. Previously the outreach staff had presented storytimes at all the centers (giving the people fish). Turning to a more empowering approach, Jon drew on his expertise in storysharing, music and puppets to create a training model and prepared the staff to teach storytime skills to the day care workers (teaching them how to fish).

Through obtaining extensive grants from Smart Start, Jon supervised the creation of 300 thematic, multimedia storytime kits (including books, flannel board tales, puppets, a one-person puppet script, and cassette recording) to give the day care workers all the materials they would need to carry out this new undertaking. He was also able to purchase a bookmobile and hire additional staff for the Children's Outreach department.


"Thank you so much for sharing your songs, stories and balloons with our boys & girls! The children (and the adults!) had so much fun! God has blessed you with a special gift and I'm so thankful you shared it with us!"  - Lisa Wallace, director, Stepping Stones Preschool, Harrisburg, NC


Singing/ "Play Party" Games

While Jon and his wife Vivian always incoporate song & movement into a storytelling program, he can also lead a whole separate activity of full body singing games in group formations such as circles or lines. The simplest of these, often done without partners, are a wonderful activity for four and five year olds, one that teachers can continue leading on their own in the classroom or playground. The well-known "Farmer In the Dell" is just one of dozens of fun games with European, African and Hispanic roots that teach important verbal, musical and physical skills while providing a welcome break and diversion from more sedentary activities. " Circle Round the Zero," "Tia Monica," and "Bluebird Through My Window" are a few other examples that children love to play.  Jon can teach these in teacher workshops as well as classroom settings.

19 MINUTES: Songs & Tales for the Very Young. Song & tale excerpts, a singing game, & a "twist-&-tell" story. (1) 001 Introductory slide show to studio recording of "My Daddy Rides That Ship in the Sky," by Woody Guthrie, with banjo; (2) 0:27 "The Green Grass Grew All Around" - call & response song with motions, guitar; (3) 1:37 "Cleano," by Woody Guthrie, with banjo; (4) 2:11 "I'm Gonna Tell," by Rosalie Sorrels, with guitar; (5) 3:17 "The Lion & the Mouse," Aesop's fable with finger puppet; (6) 4:55 "Love Grows One By One," by Carol Johnson; (7) 5:45 Story-song version of folktale, "Stone Soup," by Heather Forest, with audience input, guitar; (8) 7:45 "Grandma Moses Sick in Bed," African American singing game; (9) 9:00 "We're All a Family Under One Sky," by Ruth Pelham, with guitar; (10) 9:43 "Anansi & the Pot of Beans" - African trickster tale; (11) 12:13 "I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground," mountain folk song, with banjo - children making up new verse; (12) 13:27 "Twist-&-tell" story, "Solomon, Sheba & the Bee," told while creating balloon flower; (13) 16:43 "When I First Came to this Land," by Oscar Brand, with autoharp; (14) 17:50 "En la pulga de San Jose" - Spanish language motion song of playing musical instruments, with guitar.

The split dog turns to run on back feet


If a group is not too large, Jon can add some personal balloon twisting for the kids at the end of the performance.  As a lead-in, he includes some “twisting-and-telling” in the concert, creating balloon figures as he narrates some of the stories.  Kids enjoy seeing the balloons being created as the story unfolds. They especially enjoy getting a personal balloon of their favorite character after the performance is done. Jon’s wife, Vivian, usually helps him with the balloon making.

image5 (1)

Sample Songs and Tales

  • We’re All A Family Under One Sky, with guitar
  • My Daddy Rides That Ship In the Sky, with banjo
  • Old Blue Medley –-
    - Song (acapella): I Had a Dog and his Name Was Blue
    - Twist-and-Tell story: The Split Dog;
    - Story-song: Cumberland Mountain Bear Chase, with banjo
  • Waterbound and I Can’t Get Home, with mountain dulcimer
  • I’m Gonna Tell, with guitar
  • Turkey In the Straw, with spoons
  • Irish folktale – Jamie O’Rourke and the Big Potato -When the laziest man in Ireland catches a leprechaun, the little fellow buys his freedom with a giant potato seed.
  • When I First Came to this Land, with autoharp

"Jon Sundell is a sensational musician whose folk music is enhanced by wonderful stories from many cultures. Jon’s first visit to Keene was for one performance; his next visit will be for a three-day residency, since word of that one performance has spread. Jon is very professional and accommodating, a joy to work with." 

– Judith Perry, Project Coordinator, Grand  Monadnock Arts Council, Keene, NH

Dia stone girl
playing spoons by cabiln


Singing games:  In these traditional music games children dance very simple figures in a group while  singing a matching folk song, such as “Old Dan Tucker,” “Oh Susannah,” or “Let’s Go Zudio.” Games for the youngest children are done without partners, while those for 8 and up often done with a partner. Best for 4-10 years. Ideally in 2-4 sessions.

Storytelling Games – By experimenting with storytelling in the form of different games, participants can relax and enjoy this activity with less performance anxiety and more fun. Age 8 – adult.

Sharing personal and family stories – Using common life events and challenges as prompts, and incorporating Jon’s suggestions to shape and dramatize their tales, participants share personal anecdotes in small groups.

How to tell a story - Participants learn about using their voice, face and body to tell a story dramatically. After doing a few exercises, they read a short tale and practice telling it to 2-3 partners.

Playing the spoons: Participants learn how to hold a pair of spoons, tap out simple rhythms between the free hand and leg, and make a roll down the open fingers of the free hand.  Age 6 – adult

SQUARE DANCE: An activity that is particularly fun for families is square dancing. The combination of lively music, physical activity, and social interaction is great for lifting spirits and building a spirit of unity in your social group and in families.   Dancers love the challenge of working together to perform different figures like the big basket, mountaineer loop or bridges. This is the ultimate collaborative sport!

Children who are 8 years old or more can usually participate along with the adults on all the dances. 6-7 year olds can join in the easier dances and simple singing games, along with preschoolers. Often the youngest ones tag along with parents as a happy appendage, or they enjoy improvising to the music in their own group!

IMG_2909 (2)

Jon prefers to bring a string band, but he can also lead a dance using recorded music to save money. If you wish, Jon and the band members can fill one or more interludes with music and storytelling. This keeps things entertaining for any who are not dancing, and gives an old timey feeling to the event. A square dance can run anywhere from one to two hours, depending on what seems appropriate for your group and the occasion. Participants go home with a special skip in their step and a warm heart from having shared in this fun activity.

“I just wanted to thank you once again for the wonderful time we all had at the Square dance. You did a super job with the children’s stories, songs and dances. They all really felt a part of the whole evening.” 

– Angie Hobbs, Chairman, Family Ministries Committee, First Presbyterian Church, Winston-Salem, NC.

IMG_3041 (2)

Excerpts from a seniors square dance at Camp Caraway, NC. 001- Introduction: Photos of family dance at elementary school; 021 - Band performing, "Goin' Down That Road Feelin' Bad;" 039 - Walk through and dancing star and arches figures in "Dip and Dive;" 1:45 - Dancing Appalachian Big Circle - Take a little peek & mountaineer loop figures; 2:30 - Jon weaving dancers through Big Circle finale; 2:50 Couple dancing freestyle to the "Tennessee Waltz."


Jon has worked with Hispanic children and families for the last twenty years both inside libraries and out. Over that time he has shared Spanish and bilingual stories, songs and singing games with children and families in churches, schools, festivals and other gatherings in the United States, as well as Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Colombia. Jon directed the Forsyth County Public Library’s Hispanic Services Department for seven years, and he worked for ten years as a media coordinator in majority Hispanic public schools. He has presented several workshops on bilingual programming for the American Library Association national conference, as well as state library conferences. He founded the Hispanic Arts Initiative in the Piedmont Triad and led it for five years. Jon's wife and daughter are from Colombia, South America, and he has traveled extensively through Latin America.

full shot sr g romantic
Jon & Vivian at Greensboro Pub Lib 10-6-18 (4)
close-up guitar trimmed in back of bookm - Copy

"Over the years Jon Sundell has presented bilingual library programs on several different occasions, and he is always adept at relating to and entertaining both Spanish and English speaking families. Children and adults from both cultures feel at ease and appreciated. Above and beyond all the fun, humor and excitement there is an overarching sense of something more: a spirit of cultural exchange and community. Jon has a gift and a passion for bringing people of different backgrounds together."

- Esmirna Esparza, Head of Library Service to Spanish Speaking People, Forsyth County Public Library

Sample Spanish & Bilingual Stories and Songs:

  • Bilingual song: “Mi casa es su casa,” by Michele Valeri. A traveler passing through South America is invited home by an anaconda, a llama, and a burro, who all sing, “Mi casa es su casa whenever you are near/ Mi casa es su casa, ; sit down  and rest, my dear.”
  • Bilingual Mexican tale – Tía Miseria –An old lady is plagued by rude boys who trample her garden, eat her prized pears and tease her mercilessly until she acquires the magic gift to make anyone stay up in her pear tree till she releases them.
  • Spanish song: “En la pulga de San Jose.” A boy goes to the flea market and buys a guitar, clarinet, violin, cello, and drum. The audience sings and plays along on each of the imaginary instruments.
  • Bilingual tale: “La mariposa” (told while making a balloon butterfly) After making and putting on her new dress, Butterfly is courted in turn by a pig, a dog, a cat, and finally Ratoncito Perez, who wins her heart.
  • Spanish song: “Cielito Lindo.” The famous folk song that every Hispanic person knows. “Ay, yay yay yay, canta y no llores/ porque cantando se alegran, Cielito Lindo, los corazones.”
  • Bilingual tale: “The Bossy Rooster/ El Gallito Mandon.” In this cumulative folktale an elegantly dressed rooster with a muddy beak tries in vain to order water, fire, a stick and goat to collaborate in forcing grass to clean his beak, so that he can go to the wedding of his Uncle Parrot.