Monday, January 7, 2008

Hooked on Classics

You've heard of the Mozart Effect? Well, even if it was in fact a short-term effect tested only on college students, many parents like to expose their children to classical music anyhow. And who can blame them? It is beautiful, rich in history and sound, it can be exciting or soothing as parents require, and it is indeed part of a good, well-rounded cultural education. There are plenty of great CDs and DVDs introducing children to the orchestra, but I also like stories about the different instruments, about how musicians live and learn, about the history of the music and the composers, or simply about how music can move us. Here are a few worth sharing.

Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin, by Lloyd Moss, ill. Marjorie Priceman

Introduces ten orchestra instruments one at a time, adding the terms solo, duet, trio, quartet, and so on as more join in. In the end, they have a "chamber group of ten" and a concert begins. The real magic is the description of each instrument's sound, and Priceman's usual swirling illustrations add movement and fun to the music. Pumpkinpie was loving this one when we borrowed it, and it is well worth a look.

The Fabulous Song, by Don Gillmor, ill. Marie-Louise Gay

Frederic was named after Chopin by his musical family, and had a variety of instruments shoved at him from a young age. Sadly, he was not the musical genius they hoped for, or so it seemed until the day he watched his sister perform, and noticed the conductor. That night, he tries out his wooden spoon, and draws his family's cacaphony of songs together into one fabulous song, finding his true gift. The story is funny and sweet, and the pairing of Gillmor and Gay is always a major hit. Love this.

The Philharmonic Gets Dressed, by Karla Kuskin, ill. Marc Simont

Anticipation builds as we watch 105 people get ready for work, from their baths and showers, through getting dressed, to taking their instruments out of cases. It's fun to watch the orchestra assemble, and differences are pointed out along the way, making the 105 people individuals. Finally, the hall fills with music. It simple, but fun. A classic I remember from my own childhood, actually.

Mole Music, by David McPhail

One night mole hears a violin played on television. He orders one of his own, and learns to play. As he grows more and more skilled, he imagines playing for audiences, changing the world with his beuatiful music. As he laughs at himself for being so silly, scenes play out aboveground, over his head, and eventually, he does indeed change the course of history, though he never know it. A wonderful story where only haf of it is told, this gorgeous book is moving and a perfect one to talk about while you read together.

Gabriella's Song, by Candace Fleming, ill. Giselle Potter

A young girl's song is passed from one citizen of Venice to another, each hearing something different in it, until it reaches the ears of a composer, who builds a new symphony on it, and gives credit where it is due. I love that the same song brings a different reaction in each person who hears it, just as music can do, according to that person's own emotions at the time. A sweet, lovely, story, illustrated in Potter's typically jaunty, folksy style.

For older kids or nice read-alouds:

Cassie Loves Beethoven, by Alan Arkin (yes, that Alan Arkin)
This chapter book, which I would put at a grade 3-5 age range, is about a cow who falls in love with classical music, specifically Beethoven. It is a lovely, sweet story about following your dreams, about learning from your mistakes, and, mostly, about the power of music to move the soul. It would make a wonderful read-aloud for a child read to sit for chapters of a longer but still gentle book, too, perhaps from age 4 or 5.

Vivaldi's Ring of Mystery, by Douglas Cowling, ill. Laura Fernandez and Rick Jacobson
(also on audiobook)
Mr. Bach Comes to Call (audiobook only)
Beethoven Lives Upstairs (audiobook only)

This trio of stories are historical fiction, built around the composers, and involving music touching children's lives and hearts. They are fun stories, and quite lovely in their execution. They are also a rare case when I would suggest audiobooks rather than sticking to real books with pages, too, because the music of the composers is wound through them so beautifully that it really adds to the experience. The Vivaldi story is available in book format, and the author also has a story about Handel (Hallelujah Handel), so you could both read and listen, if you like the visuals.

For somewhat older kids, because of the topic:

The Cello of Mr. O, by Jane Cutler, ill. Greg Couch

In a war-torn region (I'm guessing it's maybe Bosnia or somewhere thereabouts, but it's unclear), a handful of families remain, and the thing that brings hope and goodness to their life is the weekly aid truck, until it is bombed, never to return. In its place, Mr. O, a former concert cellist, sits outside and plays for his neighbours to bring them hope. When his cello is destroyed, he appears, undaunted, with a harmonica. This is a wonderful, uplifting story of the power of music and the human spirit, but is better left for children old enough to understand the underlying danger with your help.

Find these and other books that hit the right note at your local library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

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