March is Music in our Schools Month– a time to celebrate the role music plays in enhancing life, the educational benefit of learning to appreciate and play music, and the composers and musicians whose works speak to us. As stated on the National Association of Music Education site:
The purpose of MIOSM is to raise awareness of the importance of music education for all children – and to remind citizens that schools is where all children should have access to music. MIOSM is an opportunity for music teachers to bring their music programs to the attention of the school and the community, and to display the benefits that school music brings to students of all ages.
As both the subject and illustrator of today’s selection lived on both sides of the Mexican and US border and as their contributions to the arts enhance life for Mexicans and US citizens, I think this is a Perfect Picture Book to kick off MIOSM:
Title: ESQUIVEL! Space-Age Sound Artist
Written By: Susan Wood
Illustrated By: Duncan Tonatiuh
Suitable for Ages: 6-9
Themes/Topics: music, composer, bandleader, Mexican immigrant, non-fiction, biography
When Juan Garcia Esquivel was a small boy, he lived with his family in Tampico, Mexico, where whirling mariachi bands let out joyful yells as they stamped and strummed.
Brief Synopsis: Bandleader Esquivel! (1918-2002) composed and played music in his native Mexico where he rose to fame, and then gained prominence in the 1950s and 1960s in the United States.
Links to Resources:
- Listen to music, make instruments, or try one of the many other activities suggested in the Esquivel! Educator’s Guide
- Listen to Esquivel!’s compositions, including music composed for short films
- Learn about other musicians who immigrated to the US (David Bowie; George Harrison; John Lennon; Bob Marley, to name just a few)
Why I Like this Book: Esquivel! is a multi-sensory exploration of a talented but little-known composer, bandleader and musician who began his craft as a child, disabling the paper roll in a player piano at age 6 so he could play it; who combined traditional folk music and jazz with “space age” innovations, including the newly-invented stereo system; who pushed the boundaries of his craft by utilizing different instruments and sound combinations; and who built a fan base and successful career in his native Mexico and in the United States.
Like Esquivel! (who dropped his first names and adopted the name Esquivel!), Tonatiuh combines tradition, in this case the artistic style found in the Mixtec Codex, with collaged textures and photographs that are inserted via computer. The inclusion of psychedelic word-art and fashion from the 1950s and 1960s is particularly effective.
An Author’s Note, Illustrator’s Note and Resources page are included.
A Note about Craft:
Esquivel! was a successful composer, bandleader and musician whose genre was “lounge music” and who liked art, fast cars, elegant clothes and “especially pretty women” – not generally the “stuff” of picture books! So how did Wood, with a background in music journalism, and Tonatiuh render this story kid-friendly?
- Starting at the beginning when Esquivel! was a child & showing how his talents were evident then and how he worked to achieve success;
- Focusing on the era when Esquivel! first achieved his lasting success, the 1950s and 1960s, and using language and images to place Esquivel! and his music in context – starting with the subtitle “Space Age…” and using similes to compare his music to era-specific items, e.g., it “sounded like a crazy rocket ride…”;
- Incorporating similes that render the story understandable to even those who don’t understand musical composition:
He was an artist, using dips and dabs of color to create a vivid landscape. But instead of paint, Juan used sound. Weird and wild sounds! Strange and exciting sounds!
Esquivel! was a 2017 Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Book. Esquivel! is also available in Spanish.
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!
I’ve heard of this but didn’t know much about it. Thanks for the thorough review. Excellent thoughts on craft. Thanks.
Thanks, Joanne. I think this is a wonderful mentor text for anyone contemplating picture book biographies of folks whose lives weren’t quite picture perfect.
I’d seen this on award lists but this is the first review I have read. I now want to read/see the book.
Given its older age range, this may be appropriate for your school library. And the teacher guide is so detailed, so the teachers may appreciate it, too.
You picked some helpful tidbits from the book for those of us interested in NF PB’s. Thanks!
You’re welcome, Cathy. I think it’s a wonderful biography mentor text.
The title character sounds like an interesting character for the pb set! I haven’t seen the book yet. Thanks for sharing it!
It’s a wonderful introduction to this style of music & features an immigrant. Well worth a read!
I enjoy Duncan’s work, so I am looking forward to reading this book.
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