Tag Archives: music

PPBF – Sing, Don’t Cry

I was privileged to view spreads from today’s Perfect Picture Book at the Highlights Foundation earlier this week, as the Foundation is featuring them in a Visual Artist Exhibition this year. When I saw the artwork in the Barn, the main gathering spot, I just had to purchase and review this uplifting book.

Title: Sing, Don’t Cry

Written & Illustrated By: Angela Dominguez

Publisher/Date: Henry Holt and Company/2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: intergenerational, family, Latinx, music

Opening:

Once a year, my abuelo would come from Mexico to stay with us.

Brief Synopsis:

Based on visits with the author/illustrator’s own Mexican grandfather, this story explores the loving relationship between the narrator, a young child, and her or his musical abuelo.

Links to Resources:

  • Ask family members to share favorite songs, and enjoy a sing-a-long;
  • Learn about and listen to some mariachi music.

Why I Like this Book:

Sing, Don’t Cry is a book filled with music, optimism, and love. It’s clear from the smiling faces on the first spread, that the two children, a young brother and sister, love their grandfather and have looked forward to his visit. Dominguez includes examples of things going wrong that are very kid-relatable: moving, a lost toy, unkind school mates, and an injury that precludes participating in a sport. But their abuelo reminds them that singing can help them overcome sadness, and that things will get better. I love this positive attitude, and I especially appreciate the loving intergenerational relationship portrayed.

The smiling faces throughout the book made me smile as I read it. I also noticed that the colors in the sad scenes were muted, to make a clear distinction between the times when bad or sad things happened, and the happy, hopeful reminder that singing will make things better.

A Note about Craft:

From the jacket flap and in an Author’s Note, readers learn that this story is based on Dominguez’ own abuelo, Apolinar Navarrete Diaz, a Mexican musician who performed on the radio in the 1940s. I think by basing the character on a real person that she knows, Dominguez is better able to bring him to life. Dominguez also shares that the title and story are inspired by the refrain in a popular Mexican song, an aspect of the story that celebrates Mexican culture.

Sing, Don’t Cry features two unnamed siblings. Dominguez uses first person point-of-view, but it’s never clear whether the narrator is the young girl or boy. I think this broadens the market for this picture book, as it will appeal to boys and girls equally.

Visit Dominguez’ website to see more of her books.

This Perfect Picture Book entry will be added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

Perfect Pairing – a Triple Treat!

It’s a special week! Not just because we celebrate a national holiday on Thursday, fire crackers and all, and not just because my music-loving son celebrates a birthday, but because for the first and maybe only time, I’m “pairing” three picture books! Strike up the band – you’re in for a triple treat!

 

God Bless America: The Story of an Immigrant Named Irving Berlin

Author: Adah Nuchi

Illustrator: Rob Polivka

Publisher/Date: Disney Hyperion/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: biography, composer, refugee, immigrant, patriotism, music, singing, Judaism

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

An inspiring portrait of an immigrant and the gift he gave his new home.
Persecuted as Jews, Izzy Baline and his family emigrated from Russia to New York, where he fell in love with his new country. He heard music everywhere and was full to bursting with his own. Izzy’s thump-two-three, ting-a-ling, whee tunes soon brought him acclaim as the sought-after songwriter Irving Berlin. He ignited the imaginations of fellow countrymen and women with his Broadway and Hollywood numbers, crafting tunes that have become classics we still sing today.
But when darker times came and the nation went to war, it was time for Irving to compose a new kind of song:
boom-rah-rah song.
A big brass belter.
A loud heart-melter.
A song for America.
And so “God Bless America” was born, the heart swelling standard that Americans have returned to again and again after its 1918 composition.
This is the tale of how a former refugee gave America one of its most celebrated patriotic songs. With stirring, rhythmic text by Adah Nuchi and delightful, energetic art by Rob Polivka, readers will be ready to hum along to this exuberant picturebook.

Read a review in The Jewish Book Council.

Irving Berlin: The Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing

Author: Nancy Churnin

Illustrator: James Rey Sanchez

Publisher/Date: Creston Books/2018

Ages: 7-12

Themes: biography, composer, refugee, immigrant, patriotism, music, singing, Judaism

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Irving Berlin came to the United States as a refugee from Tsarist Russia, escaping a pogrom that destroyed his village. Growing up on the streets of the lower East Side, the rhythms of jazz and blues inspired his own song-writing career. Starting with his first big hit, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” Berlin created the soundtrack for American life with his catchy tunes and irresistible lyrics. With “God Bless America,” he sang his thanks to the country which had given him a home and a chance to express his creative vision.

Read my review.

Write On, Irving Berlin!

Author: Leslie Kimmelman

Illustrator: David C. Gardner

Publisher/Date: Sleeping Bear Press/2018

Ages: 6-9

Themes: biography, composer, immigrant, patriotism, music, singing, Judaism

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

2019 Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Younger Readers 2018 Eureka! California Reading Association Honor Book Award
Escaping persecution for being Jewish, the Baline family fled Russia and arrived by ship in New York City harbor in September 1893. Little Israel Isidore Baline is only five years old. After arriving at Ellis Island, the first stop for all immigrants, Israel and his family are ready to begin a new life in America. His family settles in the Lower East Side and soon Israel (now nicknamed Izzy) starts school. And while he learns English, he is not a very good student. According to his teachers he daydreams and sings in class. But while these may not be traits that are helpful in the classroom, these are wonderful tools for a budding singer and composer. And by the time that Izzy (now known as Irving) is a young man, he is well on his way to becoming one of the most well-known composers in America. This vivid picture-book biography examines the life of Irving Berlin, the distinguished artist whose songs, including “God Bless America,” continue to be popular today.

Read a review in The Jewish Book Council.

I “paired” these books because they recount the life and music of the composer of “God Bless America”. Although all are “cradle-to-grave” biographies, and although they feature the iconic Berlin song, I loved reading the three together, as I appreciated the various nuances: Nuchi utilizes onomatopoeia to achieve musicality in the text; Churnin begins her exploration as Berlin and his family are sailing away from Russia and towards America and references Berlin’s inclusion of Jewish prayer in the melody; and Kimmelman, who also introduces the tragic scene in Russia at the outset, repeats the phrase, “God bless America” throughout the text.

And while the reason for three picture book biographies published virtually simultaneously may be the 100th anniversary of Berlin’s composition, I think it’s important to consider other aspects of Berlin’s life that resonate today, such as his status as refugee and immigrant and the important role his Jewish faith played in life and music.

I am indebted to Maria Marshall, who reviews picture books and interviews authors and illustrators at The Picture Book Buzz, for alerting me to the existence of these three biographies and for her fabulous interview with the three authors. See a wonderful review of these books by Marjorie Ingall in The Tablet.

PPBF – Drummer Boy of John John

June is National Caribbean American Heritage Month. To celebrate, I thought we should find a parade and make some music, like they do in many parts of the Caribbean for Carnival, an event held during February on many islands, but in summer in others.

Title: Drummer Boy of John John

Written By: Mark Greenwood

Illustrated By: Frané Lessac

Publisher/Date: Lee & Low Books/2018

Suitable for Ages: 3-8+

Themes/Topics: Caribbean, Carnival, recycling, steel drums, music

Opening:

The sun beat down on the tropical island of Trinidad. In the village of John John, families and friends toiled in teams, sewing beads onto costumes, decorating masks with feathers and shells.

Brief Synopsis: Young Winston dreams of participating in the Carnival Parade and winning free rotis, but he needs instruments in order to form a band and march in the Parade.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

Drummer Boy of John John is a fun read-aloud, full of the sights and sounds of the Caribbean island of Trinidad. Based on the true story of Winston “Spree” Simon, who, according to the Author’s Note, was “a pioneer in the development of the steel drum, or pan”, Drummer Boy of John John tells the story of young Winston and his desire to form a band for the Carnival Parade. Winston, though, has no musical instruments. But when he hears the sounds of a mango pit pinging and panging on metal objects in the junkyard, he creates his own instruments out of trash.

I love how readers see that with a bit of imagination and elbow grease to paint the trash, Winston succeeds in creating musical instruments even with no money to purchase anything. I also love how Greenwood weaves the sounds of the drums and the sounds of other bands’ instruments through the text – making this reader feel as if I’ve just enjoyed a Carnival parade. Readers also learn about roti – a popular dish in the Caribbean. Drummer Boy of John John is a great way to travel to, and learn about, the people and culture of this part of the world.

Lessac’s bright and colorful illustrations bring the island and Greenwood’s text to life. The Author’s Note and Glossary and Pronunciation Guide round out this wonderful picture book.

A Note about Craft:

Music is an integral part of this picture book, and Greenwood brings music to his text by using onomatopoeia repeatedly throughout the story. In the main text, he uses phrases such as “tapped out tinkling tones.” But in colorful, bold text woven through the illustrations, we read “jingle jangle tingle tangle clink clank clunk”. I think this is a wonderful way to capture the sounds of the Carnival bands and draw readers right into the action. And what young child can resist repeating these sounds: “boom boody-boom chucka boom bam”!

Read an interview with Greenwood and Lessac, the husband and wife creators of Drummer Boy of John John.

This Perfect Picture Book entry will be added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

Perfect Pairing is Moonstruck

With the fiftieth anniversary of the first lunar landing approaching, there’s been increased interest in stories about our relationship with the moon. I recently read two new picture books that had me moonstruck, too.

A Kite for Moon

Authors: Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple

Illustrator: Matt Phelan

Publisher/Date: Zonderkidz/2019

Ages: 4-8

Themes: moon; historical fiction; space exploration; friendship

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A Kite for Moon, written by New York Times bestselling author of How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? Jane Yolen and her daughter, Heidi E. Y. Stemple, tells a heartfelt story about a young boy’s fascination and unlikely friendship with the moon. With whimsical illustrations by award-winning artist Matt Phelan, the story begins when the little boy, who is flying his kite, notices a sad Moon. He sends up kites to her, even writing notes to Moon promising he will come see her someday. This promise propels him through years and years of studying, learning, and training to be an astronaut! Dedicated to Neil Armstrong, and a perfect children’s book to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first United States moon landing, the cover of this book will captivate readers with eye-catching spot UV, foil, and embossing.

Read a review and an interview with Yolen and Stemple at Writing for Kids (While Raising Them).

Music for Mister Moon

Author: Philip C. Stead

Illustrator: Erin E. Stead

Publisher/Date: Neal Porter Books (Holiday House Publishing, Inc.)/2019

Ages: 4-8

Themes: moon; shyness; friendship; music; courage; imagination

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

What if you threw your teacup out your window…and what if it accidentally knocked the moon out of the sky? 
A girl named Harriet longs to play her cello alone in her room. But when a noisy owl disrupts her solitude, Harriet throws her teacup out the window and accidentally knocks the moon out of the sky in frustration. Over the course of an evening, Harriet and the moon become fast friends. Worried that he’ll catch a chill, Harriet buys the moon a soft woolen hat, then takes him on a boat ride across a glistening lake, something he’s only dreamed of. But can she work up the courage to play her music for the moon?

Read a review at The Picture Book Buzz.

I paired these books because they are dreamy, lyrical books, perfect for bedtime, that personify the moon and treat it as a character (a her, in A Kite for Moon and a him, in Music for Mister Moon). Interestingly, the moon is envisioned as lonely in both books, and friendship is a strong theme in both. As the unnamed boy in A Kite for Moon works hard to realize his dream to visit the moon as an adult, shy Hank works hard to overcome her fear of performing as she plays her cello on the moon in Music for Mister Moon. Both books thus show children that dreams are attainable.

Looking for similar reads?

To find out more about our quest to reach the moon, see Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon by Suzanne Slade/Thomas Gonzalez (Peachtree Publishers/2018), and a “galaxy” of fiction and non-fiction children’s books about space exploration in a recent post in Publishers Weekly.

PPBF – The Drum

The moon and stars aligned last Saturday, and I was in London for the launch of today’s Perfect Picture Book. What fun to check out New Beacon Books, a north London bookstore that has specialized in African and Caribbean literature since 1966, and participate in the lively book launch, featuring dancing, stomping and clapping.

DWePGqhXkAAIwmU-1024x1005Title: The Drum

Written By: Ken Wilson-Max

Illustrated By: Catell Ronca

Publisher/date: Tiny Owl Publishing/2018

Suitable for Ages: 2-5

Themes/Topics: music; motion; diversity; poetry; self-expression

Opening:

This is the drum

This is the beat

Brief Synopsis: A diverse group of children enjoys moving to the beat of a drum.

Links to Resources:

  • Make a drum;
  • Listen to drum music;
  • Read about a young Cuban girl who wanted to play the drums in Margarita Engle’s Drum Dream Girl – music, especially the beat of drums, really is universal!

Why I Like this Book:

The drum takes center stage in the first in the Children Music Life series of picture books designed to get children moving and feeling the musical beat. With its diverse cast of characters, The Drum presents a lively celebration of how music unites peoples of different races, ethnicities, genders, ages and socioeconomic status.

I think children and adults will enjoy hearing, over and over again (as young children often ask for beloved books), Wilson-Max’s song-like text and following his prompts to move to the music. As I experienced at the book launch, even very young children were quick to repeat his poetic text, word for word, as they followed the prompts to clap hands, stomp feet, shake shoulders, and move their bodies. Best of all, it was clear that the message to “feel the drum in your heart” was heeded. I could easily envision kids, and maybe some adults, leaving the launch, or finishing a reading, and being inspired to beat on whatever drum-like surface they could find or make.

new-beacon-4-150x150

Wilson-Max at the book launch

Ronca’s bright illustrations that seem to jump off the pages are the perfect accompaniment to Wilson-Max’s staccato text. With minimal backgrounds and a mixture of clothing styles, including many fabrics that could be African or Caribbean inspired, the focus is on the smiling faces and moving bodies of the diverse participants. As Ronca stated in a recent interview, “I wanted the colours to communicate life and make the visuals as striking as possible.” I think you’ll agree that she succeeded.

12-1024x512

Scene from The Drum

The Drum is a great addition to home, classroom and nursery school bookshelves, especially for those desiring to build a diverse library or teach listening and basic musical skills.

A Note about Craft:

With its low word count (about 80 words total), Wilson-Max’s staccato, poetic text mimics the beats of a drum and encourages repetition. This suits the subject matter of The Drum well, I believe, and brought to mind Baptiste Paul’s poetic language in The Field that, to my mind, mimicked the back and forth action of a soccer match. In addition, Wilson-Max’s short, rhythmic language is perfect for younger listeners, like those in nursery schools or music appreciation classes. It’s clear that he tailored his words not just to the subject matter but also to the young ages of his target listeners.

Visit Wilson-Max’s about.me site to learn more about him. See more of Ronca’s artwork on her website.

Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd  is an independent publishing company in the UK “committed to producing beautiful, original books for children”, and founded on the “belief that stories act as bridges – providing pathways to new experiences whilst connecting us to here and there.”

While not currently available in US book shops, The Drum is available through the Book Depository, which ships for free to the US and around the world.

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!

PPBF – Grandma’s Records

Even though it first was published over 15 years ago, I chose today’s Perfect Picture Book because I think it still is timely, especially as so many Puerto Ricans escape the post-hurricane Maria devastation of their beloved island home.

Grandmas-recordsTitle: Grandma’s Records

Written & Illustrated By: Eric Velasquez

Publisher/date: Bloomsbury Children’s Books/2004 (originally published, Walker & Company, 2001)

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes/Topics: Puerto Rico; intergenerational; music

Opening:

Every year, right after the last day of school, I’d pack a suitcase with my cool sketchbook. Then my dog, Daisy, and I were off to Grandma’s apartment in El Barrio. Because my parents worked, Grandma’s apartment was my summer home.

Brief Synopsis: The young narrator and his grandmother share a love of Latino music and attend a special concert together.

Links to Resources:

  • A Teacher’s Guide provides several ideas, including oral history and memoir-writing projects;
  • The narrator’s Grandma hailed from Puerto Rico. Find out more about this US territory;
  • Back matter includes the lyrics to Grandma’s special song, “In My Old San Juan” (En mi Viejo San Juan) by Noel Estrada (1918-1979) in English and Spanish, and a note about the musicians who appear in the story. Listen to En mi Viejo San Juan in a video that features photographs from the 1920s;
  • Describe a visit or an experience you shared with a grandparent or elderly family member or friend. How did you feel about the visit or experience? How do you think s/he felt?

Why I Like this Book:

Grandma’s Records is a feel-good exploration of the ties that bind generations and of Puerto Rican music and culture. I love the details that Velasquez included, especially that Grandma “even made me get a haircut” before attending a show. I think this detail will help kids understand the importance that Grandma, and the narrator, placed on the concert.

Velasquez is an illustrator-author whose realistic paintings add rich details to the story. I especially like that he pictured Grandma in pink house shoes, something adults of a certain age may remember their own mothers or grandmothers wearing.

A Note about Craft:

First published in 2001, Grandma’s Records has a much higher word count than most picture books published today. The story still resonates, though, and I think it would make a wonderful read-aloud to older elementary students. I also think it would be an interesting exercise for picture book writers to determine what they would cut to align better with today’s word count norms.

Velasquez wrote Grandma’s Records, an autobiographical tribute to his Puerto Rican grandmother, utilizing first-person point of view. I think this works well for this reflective, personal story and, as mentioned under “Links to Resources” above, could be a great mentor text for classroom memoir writing exercises.

Visit Eric Velasquez’ website to see more of his books and illustrations.

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!

PPBF – Miguel and the Grand Harmony

A true confession: I picked up today’s Perfect Picture Book before I realized it’s based on the Pixar movie Coco that released this week. Sometimes happy coincidences happen!

615U6mYKdwL._SX414_BO1,204,203,200_Title: Miguel and the Grand Harmony

Written By: Matt de la Peña

Illustrated By: Ana Ramírez

Publisher/date: Disney Press/2017

Suitable for Ages: 6-8

Themes/Topics: music, Mexico, family, #WNDB

Opening:

First comes the sound. A single string plucked or a note blown or beat rapped.

And suddenly I am. Where there is music, there is color.  And where there is color, there is life.

Brief Synopsis: A boy living with no music in his home longs for it and finally finds a way to play and share it with his family and community.

Links to Resources:

  • Discover the musical instruments used to create Mexican music;
  • Make your own Maracas, guitar or drum;
  • Listen to Mexican children’s music and poetry;
  • View the Coco trailer. How are Coco and Miguel and the Grand Harmony the same? How do they differ?

Why I Like this Book:

Miguel and the Grand Harmony is a lovely story that celebrates the roles of music and family in Mexican culture. Told from the point of view of the music itself (more about that below), La Musica embarks on an exploration of the many facets of Mexican music before introducing us to the main character, Miguel, whose great-grandmother, Mamá Coco, abhors music due to bad memories associated with it. Not surprisingly, in the end music triumphs, and even Mamá Coco is happy.

The illustrator, Ana Ramírez, also worked on Coco, and brings the exuberant colors of the film to the printed page. Read an interview with Ramírez, to learn more about this young, Latina Pixar artist.

A Note about Craft:

As mentioned above, Miguel and the Grand Harmony is told from the point of view of La Musica, the music itself. This enables Newberry Medal-winner de la Peña to explore the many facets of Mexican music and culture and tell the particular story of Miguel and his family, too. La Musica acts, in a way, as an omniscient narrator, which works well to provide a context and enrich the story.

Also as mentioned above, Miguel and the Grand Harmony is “inspired by Disney Pixar’s Coco”, and features the family from that film. Per the New York Times and NPR reviews I’ve read (I haven’t had the opportunity to see the film yet), death figures prominently in the movie, with ghosts and dia de los muertos celebrations taking center stage, and Miguel embarking on a journey to the afterlife. De la Peña has eliminated the fantastical afterlife and focuses, instead, on the community, Miguel’s family, and Miguel’s desire to experience music. By doing so, he enables Miguel to play more of a role in his own transformation. I also think this renders the story more universally appealing, and, I believe, will resonate better with young listeners and music and culture lovers.

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!