Tag Archives: music

PPBF – Flowers for Sarajevo

As natural and man-made disasters continue to dominate the news, it’s difficult to remain hopeful. But today’s Perfect Picture Book shows that one act of kindness and beauty can spread, one person at a time:

FlowersforSarajevo_mainTitle: Flowers for Sarajevo

Written By: John McCutcheon

Illustrated By: Kristy Caldwell

Publisher/date: Peachtree Publishers/2017

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Themes/Topics: historical fiction, music, Sarajevo, Bosnian War, beauty, healing

Opening:

See that man in the floppy hat? That’s Milo. He’s my father. He can sniff out the best roses in all of Sarajevo. Many kinds of people come together here in our marketplace, looking for spices, meats, and bread. Sometimes they buy, sometimes they don’t. But almost everyone leaves with flowers. Milo’s flowers.

Brief Synopsis: Drasko, the son of a flower seller, experiences war firsthand in Sarajevo when a bomb detonates near the local bakery. He also experiences the solace of music when a noted musician plays a daily tribute to those whose lives were lost. Moved by the music, Drasko discovers a way to spread beauty himself in his war-ravaged city.

Links to Resources:

  • Listen to the CD that accompanies the book; how does the music make you feel?
  • A Discussion Guide is available from Peachtree;
  • Learn about Bosnia and Herzegovina and its capital city, Sarajevo;
  • How do you spread kindness and beauty? Some ideas to try include sharing artwork, homemade greeting cards or music with elderly or ill neighbors, family members or friends.

Why I Like this Book:

War is never an easy topic to address in picture books, but Flowers for Sarajevo does so in a way that empowers rather than traumatizes children. Rather than focusing on the bakery bombing and senseless killing, McCutcheon focuses on the actions afterwards that spread hope and beauty from one person to the next. By doing so, he shows readers how they can bring about positive change, whether after a personal or larger manmade or natural disaster.

Caldwell utilizes a muted palate and faded backgrounds, except for splashes of color on the flowers that draw readers’ attention to them.

A Note about Craft:

In an Author’s Note, McCutcheon, a storyteller and Grammy-winning musician, explains that he first learned about the cellist memorialized in Flowers for Sarajevo in a New York Times article. McCutcheon then wrote a song about Vèdran Smailovic, the musician, which is included in the book.

Rather than writing the story as non-fiction from an adult’s point of view, McCutcheon invented a child narrator, Drasko, who experienced Smailovic’s daily concerts and, moved by the music, spread beauty, too. By veering from the factual article and fictionalizing the story, McCutcheon renders it more kid-relatable.

McCutcheon further engages the reader by speaking directly to her or him. The story opens, “See that man…” The reader is thus on location with Drasko, and invited, in a way, to follow Drasko, his father, and the cellist to do her or his “own small part” to make the world beautiful.

In addition to the Author’s Note, back matter includes information about the Balkan peninsula and the Bosnian war, with further reading; the text and music for John McCutcheon’s song, Streets of Sarajevo, a short biography of cellist, Smailovic, and a CD.

Flowers for Sarajevo is a Parents Choice Gold Award winner.

Visit John McCutcheon’s website here. Visit Kristy Caldwell’s website here.

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 -Esquivel! Space-Age Sound Artist

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:

9781580896733_p0_v1_s192x300Title: ESQUIVEL! Space-Age Sound Artist

Written By: Susan Wood

Illustrated By: Duncan Tonatiuh

Publisher/date: Charlesbridge/2016

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes/Topics: music, composer, bandleader, Mexican immigrant, non-fiction, biography

Opening:

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!

PPBF – Gingerbread Christmas

If you asked anyone in my household the name of an author/illustrator who publishes Christmas stories, I’ve no doubt that any of them would immediately answer, “Jan Brett.” We had a small copy of her illustrated Twelve Days of Christmas (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1986) when my children were young. It was a holiday tradition to read the book each year, and I vividly recall the kids pointing out favorite details in the elaborate sidebars. Since then, we’ve read, and savored, so many of her other holiday classics. When I discovered her latest holiday story at the library, I knew I had to feature it as a Perfect Picture Book:

9780399170713_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Gingerbread Christmas

Written & Illustrated By: Jan Brett

Publisher/date: G.P. Putnam’s Sons (Penguin Young Readers Group)/2016

Suitable for Ages: 3-5

Themes/Topics: Christmas, gingerbread, music, festivals

Opening: “Everyone in the village is talking about the Christmas Festival,” Matti told the Gingerbread Baby. “I can sing in my Gingerbread Band!” the Gingerbread Baby sang out.”

Brief Synopsis: Matti creates a Gingerbread Band to accompany the Gingerbread Baby. But when a hungry child decides that the music is not just sweet but would be tasty, too, both Matti and the Baby must use their wits to save the Band and the Baby.

Links to Resources:

  • Bake and decorate gingerbread. Find Jan Brett’s recipe here.
  • Make a gingerbread house. Jan Brett has an interactive Gingerbaby House design that can be decorated and printed on her website.
  • You also can color a Gingerbaby page.
  • Sing favorite holiday songs.

Why I Like this Book: This is a feel-good story for the holidays. I love Matti’s resourcefulness, and I especially love the sense of community as villagers and wild animals dance to the Band’s tunes. When one greedy youngster decides to eat the band, readers will learn how quickly greediness can spoil a treat that was being enjoyed by all.

I love, too, Jan’s folksy illustrations, especially the side frames, that are as integral to this new Christmas tale as they are to Jan Brett’s many other books.

A Note about Craft:

What better combination than sweet gingerbread and sweet music! The band plays a march as, you guessed it, they march to the bandstand. They next play a “snappy” tune – as snappy as the gingerbread my mother baked. Their playing is described as “sweet” – a perfect adverb to describe music fit for the holidays. I love how these descriptors could as easily be descriptions of cookies on a platter as music played on a stage.

The turning point arrives when one greedy, or perhaps just observant and hungry, young girl calls a cookie a cookie and declares that she wants one. Immediately, “everyone” wants a “piece of gingerbread for myself.” Adults will recognize how one person’s vocalization is enough to put an idea into the heads of “everyone.” This could lead to some interesting discussions about thinking for oneself; being a leader rather than a follower; and even, perhaps, sticking up for the poor gingerbread instruments that had been trying so hard to entertain the crowd.

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!

Perfect Picture Book Friday – Imani’s Music

I happened upon this Perfect Picture Book recently in my local library. Based on the cover and title, I thought it was solely about music. But it is so much more and is a story that will stay with me – I hope you agree.

 

9780689822544_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Imani’s Music
 

Written By: Sheron Williams

 

Illustrated By: Jude Daly

Publisher/date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster, 2002)

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes/Topics: Slavery, origin myth, music, crickets, ancestors, storytelling

Opening: “Born during the planting season of eighteen nine and aught, my grandfather W.D. was a man of the ‘Used-to-Be’ who resided in the ‘Here-and-Now’ ‘cause time and living life had dragged him there. He was hailed in five counties as a storyteller that could wrestle a tale to the ground. He danced on the path ‘tween the ‘Used-to-Be,’ the ‘Here-and-Now,’ and the ‘What’s-Gon’-Come.’ Shoot, it was folks like him that fed the path and kept it alive.”

Brief Synopsis: The narrator’s grandfather relates the story of Imani, a grasshopper, and how Imani brought music to the world in Africa and across the oceans in a slave ship, to the slaves in America.

Links to Resources: Make music in traditional ways, either by whistling through blades of grass or flutes fashioned from reeds, or drumming on hollowed tree stumps or even pots and pans.

Make and play your own musical instruments.

Tell the story of a journey you or an ancestor has taken. Or ask older relatives about journeys they have taken.

PBS.org has a list of child-friendly books exploring slavery.

Why I Like this Book: This story-within-a-story weaves together two narratives: the experience of enslavement and the origin of music, both told by the narrator’s grandfather, W.D., a master storyteller.

Imani’s Music has a much higher word-count than the norm in picture books today, and the title character, Imani, isn’t even introduced until page 5. But I believe that the addition of a storyteller serves an important purpose: it helps distance the listener from what, arguably, is one of the most difficult topics to explain to young children, slavery. Weaving the story of Imani, a music-loving grasshopper who accompanies his enslaved friend to the new world, into the narrative allows the listener to focus on the beautiful music from Africa that survives and evolves in the new world, bringing hope, solace and a glimmer of goodness into that world.

I’d only recommend this book for older children, despite the distance Sheron Williams builds into the story. Imani, like his friend and fellow captives, is torn from his beloved Africa and family. He bewails the helplessness he feels, unable to provide food or water to so many or even let the folks back home know where their loved ones disappeared. The images of hopeless captives is heart-wrenching, with only a cricket’s sad tunes to console them.

The voices of the young narrator, Grandfather W.D., and the other characters come through so clearly in Imani’s Music. Descriptions such as W.D. “could step over the river of time like it was a rain-puddle pond”, or a “wallop of tune fell on Imani, and the world soaked up the rest like a sponge” drew me into the narrative, as did South African artist Jude Daly’s illustrations. I really felt like I entered another time and place – the “Used-to-Be”.

 

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!