Take a Gander at Mother Goose's Newest Champions, Pam Beall and Susan Nipp of Wee Sing

updated 09/14/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/14/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

In playgrounds and nursery schools, the eeentsy-weentsy spider goes up the water spout. So does the teensy-weensy and the itsy-bitsy one, to the consternation of young singers who don't understand why everyone is belting out different words to this childhood classic. Nursery rhymes and lullabies, many of which date back to the 16th century, are about as standardized as the pronunciation of "inchoate." Even worse, mothers and teachers often find they are real Simple Simons when it comes to remembering all the words to a beloved song—a plight that chagrined two Oregon mothers, Susan Nipp and Pam Beall. "The kids in our playgroup would just sit there waiting for the next verse," recalls Beall, "and we didn't know it."

Other mothers might have just skidamarinked along into snacks and crafts. Not Beall, 40, and Nipp, 42, who have created a series of songbooks with accompanying audiotapes and coloring books under the label Wee Sing. Their eighth book and tape, Wee Sing America, which came out last month, features such historic tunes as Dixie, while Wee Sing Silly Songs includes such kiddy hot 100s as Little Bunny Foo Foo. And don't think the authors are just singing a song of sixpence: Since the two musical moms began their series in 1977, more than four million Wee Sing books have been sold, most of them packaged with an audiotape and priced at $8.95.

For parents, the books are a nursery refresher course. Kids sing along with the tapes or sit on their tuffets watching the Wee Sing Together video. Featuring Hum Bear and Melody Mouse, it came out in 1985 and has sold 130,000 copies. A second, King Cole's Party, starring those Mother Goose mega-heroes Humpty Dumpty, Little Boy Blue and Jack and Jill, will be out this month.

Naturally, the publisher of all this, the Los Angeles-based Price Stern Sloan Inc., is twinkling like a little star. The company grossed $12 million from Wee Sing products last year and projects about $20 million in 1987.

The "Wee Sing ladies," as Beall and Nipp are now called, met at Portland State University, where both were graduate music students. A few years later, married and with small children, they found themselves neighbors in Lake Oswego, a Portland suburb. Each was a former music teacher by this point and deeply frustrated by her inability to remember beloved childhood standards. They began searching bookstores for comprehensive, reasonably priced songbooks, but generally, the stores were as ill-stocked as Mother Hubbard's cupboard. So Beall and Nipp picked a peck of treasured favorites from other mothers and teachers and compiled and illustrated a booklet. Laying out $90 each, they commissioned a printing of 500 copies on goldenrod-colored paper and have laid out not a pennyweight more.

At first they sold their $2.95 booklet at workshops in which they told parents how best to present children's songs and how to do fingerplays. Soon word got around, and Beall and Nipp were invited to travel Oregon presenting their workshops to parents groups and teachers. In 1978 Nipp and her husband Charlie, a restaurateur, moved to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, but the business kept rolling, with Beall and Nipp commuting back and forth. Ron Beall, a real estate broker, and Charlie looked on with amazement as their wives managed to sell 20,000 copies of the first Wee Sing book on their own. So did publisher Larry Sloan, who saw this wasn't just selling sea shells by the seashore. He took them on in 1979 and gave Beall and Nipp free reign to expand their product.

Sooner than Sloan could say one, two, buckle my shoe, the Wee Sing ladies signed up their own kids for new tapes. Believing that Wee Sing lyrics should sound homespun and ingenuous, they still use the voices of their own offspring and those of friends. The Beall brood (Hilary, 13, Sean, 12, Kyle, 7, and Lindsay, 5) and Ryan Nipp, 13, and his brother Devin, 11, are happy to pull in extra cash for each recording session. "Our kids have been our tool," says Beall unabashedly. But hey, diddle, diddle, who's complaining?

This fairy tale of high finances and family fun is likely to continue. Beall and Nipp have three more songbooks in the works and are contemplating a third video and a possible toy line. No matter how commercial they get, however, they intend to keep their motives as pure as Snow White. "Children today are faced with so much of the world so quickly," says Nipp, "we think they should have the freedom to be innocent as long as they can. We just want children to see the beauty and wonder around them, and music is so much a part of that."

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