Tag: music

Review: A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond

A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond

A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond

The Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is transformed into a tale of modern English teens in this masterful novel. Claire and Ella are the closest of friends, in fact Claire is in love with Ella. The two spend all of their time together and with their larger group of friends. When Ella is forbidden to go on the trip with all of the friends to the beaches of Northumberland, Claire goes without her. Throughout though, Claire is longing for Ella. Then she meets Orpheus, a strange and handsome musician whose music is so powerful that all of nature seems to stop when he plays. She calls Ella and holds the phone out so that Ella can hear the music too. That one impulsive moment sets in motion a story of profound love, deep loss, death and beyond.

Almond’s own writing is like the music of Orpheus. It creates an intoxicating blend of timeless Greek myth and wild modern teens. The girls become legends, their longing the desire of ages, their love the love to last all time. Orpheus is directly from myth, a wanderer who is captured in a love that seems to have been in existence for all time. There is such beauty here, not only in the myth itself but in the characters too. This book speaks to the power in each of us to live a story, a legend, a myth and to love in that way too.

Almond’s language is exquisite. His writing flows around the reader, inviting them into the magic that is happening on the page. He focuses on small things, showing how the tiny things in life are the most profound from falling rain to trees in the wind to sand drifting by. It is Orpheus’ music that brings these things to life for his listeners. And the reader falls in love with him alongside Ella, never having heard the music itself but having felt its impact to their bones.

Beautiful, mystic, and mythical, this book is a love song for young people, capturing the tumultuous feeling of tumbling into love and the tenuous nature of life and death. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Delacorte Books for Young Readers.

Review: The Wren and the Sparrow by J Patrick Lewis

Wren and the Sparrow by J Patrick Lewis

The Wren and the Sparrow by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg (InfoSoup)

This Holocaust story tells of an old man who weaved carpets on a loom and spent his evening singing to a hurdy-gurdy. His student, the Sparrow, learned at his side. The town in Poland was dark and dismal, all of its trees harvested for kindling. Food and clothes were rationed and even the music was starting to disappear. One day music was removed from the village as soldiers arrived to gather all of the musical instruments and take them away. Everyone had to give up their instruments, but the old man sang one final song before he put his hurdy-gurdy on the pile. And he would not stop singing, even as he was dragged away. That night, the Sparrow returned and took the hurdy-gurdy from the pile and hid it away. Then she too disappeared. It was found years later with a note that spoke of the bravery of both the Wren and the Sparrow and the importance of music in keeping spirits alive in dark times.

Based on the musicians who played in the Lodz Ghetto, a place that housed 230,000 Jewish people in 1940. Only 1000 survived the Holocaust that followed. Music was a part of their life and that celebration of music as a way of expressing feelings that could not be voiced is very clear in this picture book. Lewis writes with intense beauty in this book, the strong feelings showing in his sentences such as “The town shriveled up like a rose without rain.” And the image of “the gift of music soon dwindled to a sigh.” The entire book sings with prose like this, adding its own music to the story.

The illustrations by Nayberg, a native of Ukraine, show the darkness of the times. The illustrations swim with the colors of war, khaki ground and the gray of despair. When the instrument and music are present though, there is a glow and a warmth that shines in the illustration visually capturing the impact of the music on people around.

This allegorical tale captures the impact of the Nazi regime in Poland and elsewhere, offering a lesson about the power of music to carry hope in the darkest of times. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Kar-Ben.

Review: Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews

Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews

Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews, illustrated by Bryan Collier

This autobiographical picture book is about a young boy growing up in the Tremé neighborhood in New Orleans where music was a simple part of everyday life and was always in the air. Tony particularly loved the music and energy of Mardi Gras where he could see brass bands play every day. Troy first played an imaginary instrument and then found a broken trombone that didn’t sound perfect but at least it was something he could play. Troy started to teach himself to play the trombone, an instrument that was almost as tall as he was, which is how he got the nickname of Trombone Shorty. He even slept with his horn in his hands. When Troy gains the attention of Bo Diddley for his playing in the crowd at his concert, Trombone Shorty knows it’s time to form his own band. And he still has his own band today!

Andrews is a Grammy-nominated trombone player and runs the Trombone Shorty Foundation committed to preserving the musical heritage of New Orleans. Andrews writes like a master on these pages which read like music is in the air between them too, just like the air in New Orleans. He shows children how an inspiration to play an instrument can become a lifelong calling. He also shows exactly how music empowers people in a place, gives them strength, creates a united culture, and unifies them. It’s a narrative about the power of music.

Collier’s illustrations are strong and dynamic. He creates motion on the page with his collage illustrations with patterns and textures that weave together. His paintings are a zingy mix of softly rendered closeups filled with detail and personality and then images of people farther away that are rougher but add even more energy to the art.

An inspiring picture book filled with music and vivaciousness, this autobiography celebrates New Orleans and the music in its veins and in one boy specifically. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from copy received from Abrams.

Review: Elvis by Bonnie Christensen

Elvis by Bonnie Christensen

Elvis: The Story of the Rock and Roll King by Bonnie Christensen (InfoSoup)

This picture book biography offers a glimpse into the journey of Elvis Presley from poverty to becoming a rock and roll legend. The book begins in segregated Mississippi with the birth of Elvis in 1935. Elvis’ father went to jail and even after he returned to the family, they lived a hard life of poverty. But through it all flowed music from their Sundays in church to listening to the radio at home. Elvis was shy and quiet, but he could sing and at age 10 he entered his first contest and then at 11 got his first guitar. His family moved to Memphis when he was 13 and Elvis found a new kind of music. He graduated from high school and eventually worked up the courage to enter a recording studio and offer his singing services. After a disastrous first session, Elvis was filled with nerves and picked up a guitar, singing That’s All Right. It got onto the radio and suddenly everyone wanted to hear more!

Christensen makes sure that readers understand that Elvis came from a difficult background, one where there was no money and no opportunities. His shyness was another thing that Elvis had to overcome, turning his shaking on stage into his signature moves. Christensen also keeps it clear that this was a different time, a time when these sorts of music did not mix together and that Elvis was uniquely situated to be the one who created the new sound. In all, this is a testament to the power of dreams and talent.

Christensen’s illustrations gleam with hope and the future even as Elvis is being moved to yet another house and another school. She makes sure that the light shines on the little boy and that readers see that there are possibilities to come.

A strong introduction to Elvis, make sure to play some of his music when reading it to children so that they can feel that beat too. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle

Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle

Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael Lopez

Inspired by a true story, this picture book is about a girl who refused to allow societal rules to stop her from her musical dreams. In Cuba, girls were not drummers, but one girl dreamed of pounding drums big and small and making amazing music. Everyone said that only boys could be drummers though, so she kept quiet about her dreams.Everywhere she went though she could hear drumbeats that were all her own. Finally the girl dared to start drumming on real drums and she joined her sister in an all-girl band. Her father did not approve of her drumming but eventually allowed her to play for a teacher to see if she could really drum. And she could!

Engle, known for her gorgeous poetic books for older readers, has created a marvelous picture book here. Reading like poetry, the book looks deeply at a girl who refused to give up her dream to play the drums, even as she hid the dream deep inside herself. It is a book that celebrates artistic gifts even as it works to dismantle gender stereotypes and show that girls have the same artistic skills as boys do. The build up in the book is done with real skill, allowing readers to thrill at her accomplishments as her hard works comes to fruition.

Lopez gives us a bright-colored glimpse of Cuba in this picture book. Filled with lush plants, starlight, water and birds, the illustrations shine on the page. Done in acrylic paint on wood board, they have a great texture to them as well as an organic quality that adds to their depth on the page. The result is a picture book that is vibrant and rich.

A dynamic picture book that celebrates music and breaks stereotypes, this book will inspire children to follow their own dreams. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly

blackbird fly

Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly

Apple just doesn’t fit in. Her Filipino mother cooks food that no American kids eat. Plus she is so strict that Apple isn’t allowed to take any music classes at school because it might impact her other more important grades. Apple though desperately wants to learn to play the guitar. When they left the Philippines, she took just one picture and a tape of the Beatles that had belonged to her dead father. Apples does have friends, but once they discover that she is on the Dog Log, a list of the ugliest girls at school, they stop hanging around with her. Apple decides to start saving up for a guitar and as she does that she starts to make new friends, other kids that have been singled out as odd or different. But one misstep with a teacher’s wallet marks Apple as a thief and that is all it takes for her former friends to really turn against her. Apple has to figure out how being different can actually be a very good thing.

This tween novel has a strong mix of a multicultural main character combined with middle school popularity and racism. Kelly does not flinch away from the blatant racism that teenagers can engage in as well as the casual hate that they throw at each other, particularly kids who are different from them. Kelly’s writing has a friendly, straight-forward tone even as she deals with the drama of both middle school and a parent who is over protective. Using music as a language that bridges new friendships and new understandings works particularly well and serves as a backbone for the entire novel.

Apple is a character with lots going on in her life. She faces racism on a daily basis at school and in turn takes it out on her mother, turning her back on much of their Filipino culture. She is embarrassed by her mother and angry at her lack of support for Apple’s musical dreams. As Apple puts together a misguided plan to run away, readers will hope that she finds a way to live in the life that she already has, particularly because they will see how special she is long before Apple can realize it herself.

A great tween read, this book offer complexity and diversity in a story about individuality and friendship. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Greenwillow Books.

Review: Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall


The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall

Released March 24, 2015.

This fourth book in the fabulous Penderwicks series is sure to please longtime fans and inspire new ones. While the Penderwick family is still the center of the story, the focus this time has moved to Batty and Ben rather than the older Penderwick girls. Batty continues to play the piano, loving music passionately. She has also just discovered that she has a noteworthy singing voice thanks to a new music teacher at school. So she has to find a way to make money for singing lessons, since the family needs a new car and to put the Rosalind, Jane and Skye through college. Batty starts a neighborhood business that offers services like dusting and digging up rocks, specifically a Ben job.  But the only jobs she gets offered are to dog walk, something that she really doesn’t want to do because it seems very disloyal to Hound, who died recently. Batty has big plans to unveil her singing to her family, but her planning goes seriously awry as Skye starts to push Jeffrey away from both herself and the Penderwick family.

Returning to the Penderwicks is such a treat. The new focus on the younger members of the family makes me hope that there will be more such treats to come too. Birdsall writes with a such a feel for characters. They all shine through, each unique and distinct from one another. Batty is the same person as that small child that we all fell for in the first novel and so are all of the family members. Adding a new family member in little Lydia is also a treat and she is just as special and wonderful as the others.

Birdsall’s writing pays homage to so many great writers, feeling both modern and vintage at the same time. Her writing is funny, wry and immensely comfortable. It’s a joyous mix of stories, chaos and noise. It is the pleasure of old friends and new adventures that you get to share. The springtime setting is beautifully conveyed and suits the story perfectly as Batty starts to unfold herself into something new along with the trees and flowers.

If you have read the previous books, this one is another delight. If not, what are you waiting for? Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Knopf.