At my house, amidst the buzzing-hive joy and chaos of everyday life, you will find two constants: music being played and books being read. Every now and then, the twain meet, and we’re always happy to find a great children’s book about classical music. I love them because they meet kids on their level, making classical music fun, interesting, and most importantly, approachable. Here are three of our favorites. We hope they’ll find their way into your home!
Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin! (Lloyd Moss, ages 4-8) For many years I listened to the rich baritone of Lloyd Moss, the much-beloved program host on WQXR. Little did I know that one day I would be reading his wonderful book to my children. Written in witty rhyme, the story highlights each member of an orchestra as they enter the stage for a concert. Children will learn to identify each instrument, and may even remember the musical terms for each successive grouping (solo, duo, trio, quartet etc.). The Caldecott Honor-receiving illustrations by Marjorie Priceman are colorful and energetic- if you look closely, each player resembles their instrument! Two cats, a dog, and a mouse add to the fun with their onstage antics.
Berlioz The Bear (Jan Brett, ages 4-8) Could there be a better name for a bear musician? We were already big fans of this wonderful author and illustrator and were thrilled to discover her charming story about Berlioz, a nattily dressed, double-bass playing bear who is beleaguered by a strange buzzing sound in his instrument just before his orchestra is to play a big concert. In Berlioz’s ursine group are a French horn player, a violinist, a clarinetist, bass drum player and trombonist. After a hole in the road sidelines the bears’ “bandwagon” and threatens to make them late to their performance, many friends try to help…but the buzzing ends up saving the day! I asked my five-year-old daughter what she likes the best about Berlioz The Bear, and she replied that seeing all the animals go into the town square to get ready for the concert is her favorite (Brett’s page-border illustrations add a particularly wonderful element to the story). She also likes that the orchestra plays “Flight of the Bumblebee” for their encore, noting that “it’s fast and sounds like a bumblebee”. It’s also a fitting homage to the hero of the story.
The 39 Apartments of Ludwig van Beethoven (Jonah Winter, ages 4-9) Not only did Beethoven own five pianos, he owned five legless pianos. Apparently the composer enjoyed composing on the floor! Music history tells us that Beethoven lived in 39 apartments over the course of his life, but this funny, quirky story surmises exactly why he moved so many times (A stinky cheese smell? Fraülein Hausfrau couldn’t take the noise?). I crack up every time I see the illustration of baby Ludwig emitting some suspiciously famous-sounding cries: Wah wah wah waaah! Barry Blitt’s illustrations are wonderful, and since Beethoven was such a genius it makes sense that he is depicted with an oversized cranium.
When we’ve worn these three ragged, I’m looking forward to diving into Lives of the Musicians: Good Times, Bad Times (and What the Neighbors Thought) by Kathleen Krull and illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt (another artist fond of enlarging composers’ heads!). Short chapters and engaging pictures are sure to provide another wonderful window into the lives of composers. Bonus: I learn a lot, too!
Happy Wednesday, dear Revelers!