David Byrne recently posted a few thoughts on the past, present, and future of album art. Byrne's main point? We shouldn't necessarily mourn the loss of album art (which was often designed without the artist's input) with the rise of the iPod et al. Bryne posits a future in which recorded music is free while graphic designers develop ways to entice those listeners to pay for other stuff (merchandise, etc.) associated with the artist. (Thanks to Stereogum for the original reference.)
What does this have to do with children's music? I don't know whether many children's music artists spend much time considering album art. Even if they do (and they probably do), the results often doesn't show that. Raffi's early albums, while pretty darn good, could hardly be considered to have great album art. Those covers are pretty good compared to some I've seen. Aside from the Wiggles, who have very consistent art direction (THE WIGGLES! SMILING! FUN, BRIGHT COLORS!), there aren't a lot of kids' artists whose art direction I love. Dan Zanes is a conspicuous exception (it helps if your brother-in-law is an artist), and there are some other exceptions, too. (The packaging of Lunch Money's Silly Reflection is fabulous, for example. By the way, do you have that album yet? Why not? Go!)
I think much of children's music is trapped behind packaging that screams "you, the adult, will tolerate this and that's all." And I think that may explain partially why certain albums do or don't do well. Flipping through the small kids' music section at your local Borders... what are you going to choose? If you're trying to decide what to give as a gift for your niece's 4th birthday, what are you going to choose? How about looking at covers online? (Yes, I realize that, considering the current plainness of this website, this is a bit "pot-calling-the-kettle-black.")
While bad album art won't always win (Raffi's CDs are still very popular), it takes an awesome album to overcome that art. While Byrne may be right that album art in general may fall by the wayside, I think that day is further away for kids' music than for most music.
And just because I dig the Talking Heads, here's a page with some Talking Heads audio samples. The obvious choice for this site is "Stay Up Late," a funky tune from Little Creatures, but how can you not listen to something from Remain In Light? Go have fun.
What's your favorite children's music album cover/packaging?