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. With this variety he is easily able to keep his listeners engaged, but there are 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 kind of storytelling puppet – 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 a journey through moments that are funny, scary, exciting and thoughtful, building a community spirit as he goes.

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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.

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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

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.

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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 while they sing a matching folk song, such as “Old Dan Tucker,” “Oh Susannah,” or “Let’s Go Zudio.” Some are done without partners & others with them. Best for 4-9 years.

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 the ingredients of effective storytelling, then identify them as Jon tells a short dramatic tale. Next they echo Jon's rhythmic and dramatic patterns line by line as he retells it. Finally, guided by a script they practice telling it themselves with a partner.

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 group!

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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 time 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 warmth in their heart from having shared 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.

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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 founded the Hispanic Arts Initiative and led it for five years. His wife is from Colombia, South America, and Jon has traveled extensively through Latin America. He worked for ten years in majority Hispanic public schools. He has presented workshops on bilingual programming several times at state and national library conferences.

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Jon & Vivian at Greensboro Pub Lib 10-6-18 (4)
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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.