Posts Tagged ‘music’
Posted in fiction, non-fiction, picture books, tagged book reviews, children's literature, humorous stories, insects, inventions, Lonnie Johnson, music, Paraguay, picture books, Sherman Alexie, super-soakers on June 20, 2016| 2 Comments »
Posted in non-fiction, picture books, poetry, tagged Ada Byron Lovelace, biography, book reviews, children's literature, civil rights, computer programming, Cuba, Florence Nightingale, holocaust, Jane Goodall, langston hughes, mathematics, music, native americans, nursing, Paiute, picture books, poetry, Tanzania, women's history month, WWII on March 16, 2016| 3 Comments »
So many women are told their dreams “simply can’t be done.” Today, meet a drummer, a mathematician, a primatologist and others, who persisted and realized their dreams.
Plus a tribute to mothers: In our heart of hearts, we often feel overwhelmed at this epic task — nurturing healthy human beings for our world. Women’s History Month would not be complete without celebrating motherhood.
Drum Dream Girl:How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music, by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael López
published in 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Hot pepper oranges and Caribbean blues saturate the pages of this poetic celebration of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, the first female drummer in Cuba. As a young girl, the varied drums’ beats tantalized her, but it was taboo for women to play them.
Winner of the 2016 Pura Belpré Illustration Award, the gorgeous artwork in this book explodes with color and Cuban culture, while the text dances along lithely. Superb introduction to Millo, who became a world-famous drummer, and another example of the odd restrictions women have had to overcome with the help of a key insider. Ages 3 and up.
Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by April Chu
published in 2015 by Creston Books
Ada, daughter of the poet Lord Byron, was a brilliant mathematician. From childhood she was mesmerized by numbers and the inventions made possible by their calculations. Ada was a child of privilege, yet had to overcome family dysfunction, a crippling illness, and her society’s conviction that math was no place for a woman.
Wallmark’s introduction is intriguing and accessible, and Chu’s handsome artwork immerses us in Ada’s world. Read about the woman who wrote the first computer program with ages 5 and up.
Paiute Princess: The Story of Sarah Winnemucca, written and illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray
published in 2012 by Frances Foster Books, Farrar Straus Giroux
Sarah Winnemucca was not a princess. And her name was not really Sarah. Yet by assuming an identity the White world invented, she was able to wield her strengths for the good of her Paiute people.
This lengthy, fascinating account by award-winning author and illustrator Deborah Kogan Ray introduced me to an amazing person I had never heard of, who worked tirelessly for justice for the Paiute.
She was a controversial figure, accepted fully by neither white culture nor her own people. I think that is often the case for peacemakers caught in the middle, searching for the best compromise this world offers. A beautiful, thought-provoking read for ages 8 and up.
Irena’s Jars of Secrets, by Marcia Vaughan, illustrated by Ron Mazellan
published in 2011 by Lee & Low Books
Irena was a young Polish Catholic woman when World War II broke out and with horror she witnessed the beginnings of the Holocaust. As a social worker, she gained access to the Warsaw ghettos, smuggling in aid for two years until it became clear that Treblinka was in store for all who remained.
Read the story of how this intrepid woman risked her life to smuggle 2500 children out to safety, and find out what role was played by two glass jars hidden under an apple tree. A riveting account with rich, atmospheric paintings, for ages 5 or 6 and up. Obviously, extermination camps are a part of this narrative, so use your judgement as to the appropriateness for young children.
Demi’s characteristically elegant treatment of her subjects turns here to Florence Nightingale, another child of privilege who used her life to benefit the poor and broken in the world.
Demi traces her life from her birth in Florence, Italy, (I never knew that is how she got her name!) through her calling as a young woman into nursing — an objectionable life for a proper lady, careful study of the care of patients, and blossoming as a leader and innovator in nursing care. It’s a brilliant account, never bogging down yet covering a vast amount of information, accompanied by intricate, appealing illustrations. An inspiration for ages 5 and up.
Me…Jane, written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell
published in 2011 by Little, Brown and Company
This tender story tells of Jane Goodall’s childhood love of the great outdoors and all the wondrous natural world around her. The entire, sparkling account spins out just a few thoughts, like candy floss, magically endearing us to this dear girl, until with one turn of the last page, she is all grown up, living out her dream in Africa.
Charming and engaging for children ages 2 and up, the story is followed by a bio written for ages 8 and up, and a wonderful, personal message from Jane about the opportunity for each of us to make a difference in our world. If you want to learn more about her, follow this up with another excellent account focusing more on her long work in Tanzania:
The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps, written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter, also published in 2011 by Schwartz & Wade and ideal for ages 3 and up.
Lullaby (for a Black Mother), by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Sean Qualls
published in 2013 by Harcourt Children’s Books
Langston’s dark-cherry sweet lullaby, a mother singing to her little dark baby, her little earth-thing, her little love-one, is marvelously illustrated in Sean Quall’s rhythmic, contemporary styling. Twilight purples and midnight blues infuse the pages, anchored in strong shapes, textures, and inky blacks.
A note about Langston Hughes informs us about his sweet connection with words during a childhood of fractured relationships. Qualls conjectures about the comfort Hughes believed a mother’s lullaby could bring to a lonely boy. Read this with children ages 2 and up, and invent your own lullaby to speak your love.
Little Leap Forward: A Boy in Beijing, by Guo Yue and Claire Farrow, illustrated by Helen Cann
published in 2008 by Barefoot Books; 125 pages
The poetry of language, music, cooking, friendship, love, and nature gleam like moonlight on snow in this gorgeous memoir of life in China during the Cultural Revolution. It’s the juxtaposition of breathtaking beauty and punishing uniformity that gives this story such power.
Author Guo Yue was born in 1958 in Beijing at the outset of the Great Famine which, over the next four years, would cause death by starvation to some 36 million people. His father, apparently, was one of them. When Yue was 8 years old, the Cultural Revolution exploded in China, crushing the thought, creativity, individuality, and life out of her people. Yue was grievously separated from family and friends during that time. As a musician — Guo Yue is a virtuoso performer of Chinese flutes — all of the beauty and grief of his childhood informs his music.
This book is a fictionalized account of his childhood. Its sumptuous language carries us right into the courtyards and riverbanks and schoolrooms of Beijing, allowing us to experience that world through Yue’s captivating viewpoint. The sensory richness — of aromatic ginger, sweet birdsong, cucumbers like green jade — running throughout the whole account is extraordinary. There is liveliness and humor as well, and intriguing depictions of kite-making and kite-flying expeditions. Comparisons of the old ways of China, the new ways of China, and the harsh crashing in of the newest extremes of revolution, are sharply drawn.
Hovering just beyond the overt aspects of the memoir is a poignant yearning for freedom. That struggle is cast symbolically as Little Leap Forward wrestles with his conscience over a small songbird he’s caught, whose song has disappeared as she’s confined. It’s a motif that the youngest readers might not pick up, but which makes this book an excellent choice for readers who are older than you might think of as the target audience.
Helen Cann’s lovely, rich paintings perfectly complement this story. I love her work! Even the end papers are alluring, with Chinese kites gracefully dancing against a blue sky. Her detailed, visual references for the many foreign elements mentioned in the text are extremely helpful.
Several pages of photographs and biographical notes are included at the end. Read this aloud with ages 5 and up, but consider it as well for older readers, especially those with artistic souls or with an interest in China. Or read it for yourself. I very much enjoyed it.
P.S. You can hear Guo Yue play at this youtube link. Hauntingly beautiful.
Posted in non-fiction, picture books, tagged Alvin Ailey Dance Company, art, Benny Andrews, black history month, book reviews, children's literature, dance, George Moses Horton, Ira Aldridge, Leontyne Price, music, opera, painting, picture books, poetry, racism, Robert Battle, shakespeare, slavery, theater on February 18, 2016| 1 Comment »
This week, I’m celebrating the rich contributions to the arts made by courageous, persevering African Americans, starting with dance:
My Story, My Dance: Robert Battle’s Journey to Alvin Ailey, by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome
published in 2015, A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
This is the stirring, inspirational story of Robert Battle, a young man who overcame so many obstacles to become a brilliant dancer, award-winning choreographer, and ultimately the artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. His personal story and the story of the expression of African American stories on the dance stage are immensely powerful.
I was captivated not only by Robert’s passionate pursuit of his dream, but by the array of people in his life who helped him along the way. James Ransome has chosen to illustrated it in vibrant pastels. I particularly love the figurative studies on the endpapers and in one interior spread! Ages 6 and up.
Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton, written and illustrated by Don Tate
published in 2015 by Peachtree
George Moses Horton was a slave in North Carolina with a thirst for the riches of words and language from his childhood. Being prohibited by his master from learning to read, George managed to teach himself through sheer inventiveness and unflagging effort.
Then, he went on to do glorious things with his words. Composing his own poetry sustained him over a lifetime of adversity. What an intriguing, yet difficult life he led, bursting with creativity but fettered by enslavement. I am so glad to have met this incredible man through this book. Don Tate’s luminous paintings are remarkably welcoming. Don’t miss this one, for ages 4 and up.
Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century, by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Raul Colón
published in 2014 by Alfred A. Knopf
Raul Colón’s stunning artwork transfixes us as we’re immersed in this magnificent account of a young Mississippi-poor girl who rose to become a Metropolitan Opera star.
The Price family home swirled with music, Marian Anderson broke through barriers that inspired, teachers along the way recognized outstanding talent, but it was Leontyne herself who practiced and persevered. She gifted the world with her fabulous voice and paved the way for African American opera singers who followed. A glorious story for ages 4 and up.
Ira’s Shakespeare Dream, by Glenda Armand, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
published in 2015 by Lee & Low Books
Ira Aldridge’s life story dates back the farthest of the artists on today’s list. Born in 1807, he was fortunate to live in New York City where he was able to attend the African Free School. There he was introduced to the great William Shakespeare, and there his dreams of becoming a Shakespearean actor were born.
Aldridge had to buck not only racism but his father’s wishes in order to pursue his theatrical path, and finally had even to leave family and home, to move to England where possibilities for black actors actually existed. With indefatigable perseverance, Aldridge went on to become an astonishing success.
Floyd Cooper’s handsome, soft illustrations bring Aldridge and his world alive. Ages 5 and up.
Draw What You See: The Life and Art of Benny Andrews, by Kathleen Benson, illustrated with paintings by Benny Andrews
published in 2015 by Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Benny Andrews was a contemporary artist whose life and art drew immensely from the obstacles he and his family faced as African Americans in the sharecropping days of the ’30s. His surreal use of color and form, expressive figures –at times standing tall against their backgrounds, at times breaking forth in exuberant joy, at times, straining under oppressive burdens — are riveting.
Andrews had to overcome poverty as well as the expectation that, as a black child, he would not stay in school even through high school. His remarkable perseverance, his forward reach and simultaneous rooted commitment to home and to the ordinary, suffering people in his world, were a potent alchemy which transformed his art and his social activism.
I love that this book is illustrated with his paintings so we really meet him as we read his story. Ages 6 and up.
Posted in non-fiction, picture books, tagged Art Tatum, black history month, book reviews, children's literature, Florence Mills, harlem renaissance, jazz, jazz legends, Mary Lou Williams, Melba Liston, music, music appreciation, picture books on February 4, 2016| Leave a Comment »
Each week of February — Black History Month — I’ll be posting a list of excellent titles for you to explore, grouped by topic. I’m starting out with a jazz theme. Learn and enjoy!
The Dillons’ introduction to jazz is a lovely place for anyone to begin learning about this iconic American musical form.
The text of the book is brief — a rhythmic description of an epic, fictional, jazz ensemble, made up of the greats who meet up for one cool performance. It’s a Dream Team with folks like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and Ella Fitzgerald. Brief bios of all 7 musicians are included in the closing pages, as well as a list of favorite recordings to get us started listening.
As always the artwork is phenomenal. The Extra Bonus Treat here is an accompanying CD made by the Dillons in which they teach us about what makes up a jazz ensemble. In under 20 minutes, the two of them talk to us conversationally — very much a Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood sort of feel — telling about each instrument. We get to hear the different kinds of sounds each one can make. Then we hear what kind of music happens when two of them play together, and then more. Finally, we hear the whole ensemble play a piece in which we can pick out the individual instruments — how clever that feels!
Kids as young as 4 or 5 can learn way more than you might guess from this understated, brilliant book. Then move on to learn about some African American jazz artists whose names are perhaps not quite as familiar, such as …
Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills, words by Renée Watson, pictures by Christian Robinson
published in 2012 by Random House
Florence Mills was born in 1896, the daughter of former slaves. She began singing and dancing in her childhood in Washington, D.C., and went on to become one of the stars of the Harlem Renaissance.
Read the story of this talented and generous woman, accompanied by Christian Robinson’s exciting, sizzling art, with ages 5 and up.
Little Melba and Her Big Trombone, by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrations by Frank Morrison
published in 2014 by Lee & Low Books Inc.
Love this story of a little gal that picks up a mighty big instrument and then proceeds to dominate with it! Melba Doretta Liston was a legendary trombone player, composer, and arranger.
Hip, swingin’ artwork accompanies this upbeat story for ages 4 or 5 and up. A lengthy afterword fills in a lot more history for you, with a selected discography so you can hear her sound for yourself.
The Little Piano Girl: The Story of Mary Lou Williams, Jazz Legend, by Ann Ingalls & Maryann Macdonald, illustrated by Giselle Potter
published in 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Children
Mary Lou Williams was a child prodigy with an uncanny ability to both learn and create music from a young age. She went on to travel and boogie with the “Kings and Dukes and Earls of jazz” for almost 60 years, a phenomenal success, a rare female jazz pianist for her time, and a kind mentor for others.
Giselle Potter’s naive illustrations are rosy-warm and appealing. Ages 4 and up.
Piano Starts Here: The Young Art Tatum, written and illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker
published in 2008 by Schwartz & Wade Books
Art Tatum was another child who gravitated to music and the piano at an early age. Despite severely limited vision, which grew progressively worse, Tatum was playing professionally by age 16, and went on to play, improvise, travel, record, planting his star firmly at the top of the world of jazz.
This book is written as though Tatum is narrating his life story, with a sweetly personal tone. Parker’s watercolor illustrations also convey a lovely humanness, warmth, and joy. Ages 4 and up.
There are so many more exceptional biographies available at your library of other jazz legends, so don’t stop here!
Posted in fiction, non-fiction, picture books, poetry, tagged ballet, book reviews, children's literature, Christmas, dance, Duke Ellington, fantasy, Ivan Chermayeff, music, Ogden Nash, picture books, poetry, Tchaikovsky, The Nutcracker on November 30, 2015| 2 Comments »
Are you going to a Nutcracker performance this year?
I have such fond memories of taking my children to the ballet — the magical sets, enchanting costumes, sparkling celeste, scampering mice.
Today, I’ve got six books starring the Nutcracker, none of which tells the original story. There are dozens of books that do that, illustrated by everyone under the sun it seems, so you can choose your own favorite version. Meanwhile, we’ll meander around the story looking at if from different angles, starting with:
The Nutcracker Comes to America: How Three Ballet-Loving Brothers Created a Holiday Tradition, by Chris Barton, illustrated by Cathy Gendron
published in 2015 by Millbrook Press
I never stopped to think about why the Nutcracker is such a huge holiday tradition. I guess it’s such a fixture, it never occurred to me that it had to start sometime, somewhere.
Here comes Chris Barton, though, to carry us back to the early 1900s, to an obscure town in Utah where three Christensen brothers grow up in a family that loves to dance.
A potent mixture of showmanship, ballet, Russian symphony conductors, world war, mad sewing skills, endless practice and years of patience culminate in a 1949 Christmas performance that launches this spectacular annual treat. Who knew?
It’s an unusual slice of history and an intriguing story of perseverance that will be of special interest to children ages 5 and up who are familiar with the ballet.
Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite, by Anna Harwell Celenza, illustrated by Don Tate
published in 2011 by Charlesbridge
If you’ve never heard the swingin’, bluesy sounds of Duke Ellington’s jazzed-up Nutcracker Suite, do yourself a favor and listen now!
There’s a CD tucked into this book that will allow you to do just that while you read the backstory of how Ellington came to write it in 1960.
As we know now, courtesy of Chris Barton, the tradition of a holiday Nutcracker performance had just taken off when the idea surfaced for Ellington to give it his own signature spin. Working with his good friend Billy Strayhorn, the reimagined music was composed in less than three months.
Settle in with the CD, read the story a bit at a time, and listen to each snazzy tune as the band records it in that Los Angeles studio. Perhaps a box of peanut brittle is in order as well. Knowing the original Tchaikovsky music will sharpen a child’s appreciation for these variations and this story. Ages 6 and up.
The New Nutcracker Suite and Other Innocent Verses, by Ogden Nash, designed and illustrated by Ivan Chermayeff
published in 1962 by Little, Brown and Company
At the same time as Ellington was riffing, poet Ogden Nash was commissioned to pen some verses for use as narration to the original music. He wrote them in 1961 and ’62.
This book contains those typically witty and highly-original poems. There’s a collection called “Between Birthdays” which were written to accompany Tchaikovsky’s Children’s Album, a few miscellaneous poems, and then seven poems correlated to various Nutcracker pieces.
Here is his Russian Dance poem:
The Russian moujik is mad for music,
For music the moujik is most enthusic.
Whenever an instrument twangs or toots
He tucks his trousers into his boots,
He squats on his heels, but his knees don’t crack,
And he kicks like a frenzied jumping jack.
My knees would make this performance tragic,
But his have special moujik magic.
Apparently Peter Ustinov read these poems for a Columbia recording with music conducted by André Kostelanetz. Wouldn’t that be a joy to hear?
The masterful design of Ivan Chermayeff is the cherry on the top of all of this. His bold, playful 1960’s colors and sensibilities completely own the pages.
Why on earth is this book out of print?! Ages 4 and up if you can find it.
E.T.A. Hoffman’s original story has been pared down here and trimmed up there to create the ballet production most of us are familiar with.
This new holiday novel does just the opposite. Sherri L. Smith takes the kernel of Hoffman’s original story and spins out an elaborate tale of sparring kingdoms. There’s the empire of Boldavia with their new Princess Pirlipat; the Drosselmeyer family, whose fantastical mechanisms win them both friends and enemies; the mouse kingdom and its Queen mad for power and revenge; and the rats, whose scarred memories of a Pied Piper still inform their philosophy of life.
Mythical nuts, clever inventions, German Christmas markets, scholarly squirrels, life-and-death gambits, cogs, clocks, plus a dash of romance — swirl in this enjoyable, fast-paced fantasy. 385 pages. Ages 9 and up.
Bea in the Nutcracker, written and illustrated by Rachel Isadora
published in 2015 by Nancy Paulsen Books
If you’re looking to introduce the delights of the Nutcracker to the very youngest of revelers, look no further.
Rachel Isadora’s book is a charming, pint-sized peek into the Land of Sweets. Bea’s toddler ballet class is putting on the Nutcracker and lucky Bea has the part of Clara. See their costumes, watch the show, celebrate the success.
Darling illustrations and the bare minimum of a story line here will tantalize very young children’s imaginations and prepare them for an outing to a performance.
Perfectly-pitched for ages Under-Two and up.
Tallulah’s Nutcracker, by Marilyn Singer, illustrations by Alexandra Boiger
published in 2013 by Clarion Books
And finally, a darling story about little Tallulah, whose stars align at just the right moment bringing her a golden chance to play the part of a mouse in the Nutcracker. Thrilling does not even begin to cover it!
Tallulah’s enthusiasm for her part is as soaring as a grand jeté, and dreams of stardom and sugar plum roles in the future dance in her head. The one thing she doesn’t count on is a mussed-up stumble on stage. Oh dear.
A lovely outpouring of empathy and kindness from the dance master and the Sugar Plum Fairy herself, gives renewed hope and happiness to Tallulah. It’s a sweet story, with charming, delicate illustrations, for ages 3 and up. There are a number of other Tallulah stories if you wish.
Posted in non-fiction, tagged Adolf Hitler, book reviews, Dmitri Shostakovich, Josef Stalin, Leningrad, modern history, music, nonfiction, soviet union, symphonies, The Leningrad Symphony, world war II, young adult literature on October 29, 2015| 1 Comment »