Double Bass Blues by Andrea J. Loney, illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez (9781524718534)
Nic plays cello at school with a zip and a hum, filling the room with his solo. Then he heads home, climbing over fences, rushing past dogs, to get on the bus. It takes him to another part of town where people make fun of his school uniform and wonder what his cello is. As rain falls, the mocking follows him all the way home until he reaches his granddaddy’s apartment that is filled with other musicians all ready to play along with his “bull fiddle.”
Loney celebrates the transforming power of music in this picture book. Her text is very simple, filled with sounds like clapping hands, musical zips and swoops, and noises of rain, buses, and crowds. Then he takes those noises and the stress of the ride home and turns them into music to share. This book also explores the life of a child straddling two communities, demonstrated by one trip home, with music anchoring both parts of his life.
The illustrations are done in acrylic paint. They incorporate strong lines and bright colors. The faces of Nic and other people are done in great detail, contrasting with the world around him which is done in a more stylized feel.
A marvelous musical picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Knopf.
Pokko and the Drum by Matthew Forsythe (9781481480390)
Pokko’s quiet frog parents had made a big mistake giving her the drum. When they tried to discuss it together, they couldn’t hear themselves. So Pokko’s father sends her outside with the drum, asking her to play quietly and not draw attention from anyone. So Pokko heads out quietly. The forest is very quiet, too quiet. So Pokko starts to play her drum. Another animal joins in and follows Pokko. More animals join until they have a parade of music. Back home, it’s lunch time. Pokko’s father listens for her and faintly hears music that is coming closer. He’s about to discover that Pokko can really play that drum!
Forsythe has created a book that is a complete delight. While telling the story of the rather loud and very brave Pokko, he also gives readers moments where the story pauses. These are moments like seeing other gifts Pokko’s parents have given her, like the slingshot and the llama. Forsythe isolates these moments giving them entire pages and time to have real impact. The same happens when Pokko must confront the fox who is eating others in the band. The overall storytelling is just as strong, offering a folktale feel with a modern twist.
The illustrations are done in watercolor, gouache and colored pencil. They have a gorgeous sunlit quality to them that is saturated and rich. They use patterns and colors to great effect as well.
Unique and lovely, this is one to beat the drum for! Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.
Operatic by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler (9781554989720)
A middle grade graphic novel that focuses on the power of music and opera? Yes please! This innovative graphic novel tells the story of Charlie, who has an assignment to find her own personal perfect song. Her music class listens to all sorts of musical genres but the one that resonates with Charlie (and no one else in her class) is the music of opera singer Maria Callas. As Charlie searches for her song, she is thinking of two classmates. There is Emile, who is quiet and intriguing. Then there is the empty desk left by Luka, who was targeted and bullied for his gender nonconformity. As Charlie finds her song, she also discovers her inner diva and the ability to empower those around her.
Maclear’s story is all about the impact that music, specifically the right music at the right time, can have on one’s life. She writes with a deep empathy for young people finding their own way through middle school, focusing on the importance of friends but also on reaching out to others and helping them too. The book is filled with emotion and connection that exemplifies youth and hope.
Eggenschwiler’s art is exceptional. He creates images that perfectly capture the emotions of have a crush on someone, or feeling certain ways in your group of friends. The illustrations move through various single-colors as their main palette from yellows to blues to reds and back. Filled with individuality and creativity, the illustrations are interesting and unique.
A great graphic novel for middle grades, this one speaks to each person being both an individual and a member of the community. Appropriate for ages 11-14.
Reviewed from library copy.
Music for Mister Moon by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead (9780823441600)
A collaboration between the Steads is always reason for joy. This picture book explores the imagination of Hank, a young cellist who simply wants to play all alone. When her parents suggest that she play in public, she doesn’t think that sounds good at all. So she imagines them as penguins and heads for her room which she imagines is an isolated warm room. But just as she starts to play, an owl hoots outside. Hank eventually tosses a teacup at the owl but then her cozy home starts to fill with smoke. She discovers that the moon has been hit by her teacup and fallen down to sit atop her chimney. Together, Hank and moon have a series of adventures from buying the moon a warm hat to taking a boat ride. Will Hank play her music for the moon? And how will the moon return to the sky again?
This story is intensely whimsical and lovely. From the very first page, the tone is set and readers will realize they are in a different world. This is partly because of the lightness and ethereal beauty of the illustrations. Filled with chalky color, their fine lines show a world populated with animals, coziness and quiet.
The writing is equally delicate, moving through the tale and inviting readers to linger a while and hear the cello music too. Hank is an intriguing character, a girl who loves music but not performing. She is also a girl with an intense imagination, creating teacups and flinging them high enough to tap the moon. She allows her emotions to become items she places around her, and so the journey with the moon becomes all the more beautiful.
A bedtime story that is beautiful, moonlit and filled with music. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Neal Porter Books.
A Story Like the Wind by Gill Lewis, illustrated by Jo Weaver (9780802855145)
A haunting look at the plight of refugees, this short piece of fiction will work well for children and adults alike. Rami floats in the water in a small dinghy with seven other people. All of them are fleeing their homeland in the hopes of finding shelter elsewhere. But the boat motor has broken down and they are now adrift. Rami is alone except for his violin, and he begins to weave a tale filled with music to keep their spirits up. It is a tale of a young man who rescues an orphaned colt from the snow and grows to be able to ride the stallion because he respects the horse’s freedom. As the tale is woven, it is not just a story about horseriding, but also one about power, brutality and the cost of freedom.
Lewis has written a book that dances the line between children’s book and adult book very nicely. It can also seem almost a picture book as the illustrations sweep across the pages. Lewis’ writing is beautiful and filled with emotion. The dangers of the refugee experience are shown tangibly on the page, as are the stories of what they have lost from war. The story of the stallion is given equal weight in the book, rounding out the book and offering another angle from which to view the same story in the end. It is a story that arcs around and creates a whole out of two separate tales wrapped in song.
The illustrations by Weaver are breathtaking, woven from blues and whites. They fill with light and dark, playing against one another and revealing images built from luminescence, music, and wind. The illustrations suit the dark tale so perfectly that the book is one cohesive story.
A dramatic and human look at the refugee crisis and its many victims. Appropriate for ages 9 and up.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers.
The Dam by David Almond, illustrated by Levi Pinfold (9780763695972)
Based on a true story, this is the tale of the Kielder Dam which when finished would flood the valley where there were farms, homes and a school. Musicians had played throughout the area, so right before the valley was to be flooded, Mike Tickell took his daughter Kathryn and her fiddle into the dam to play music there for the final time. They enter each boarded-up house and Kathryn plays music. They played all day long, one home and structure after another, filling the spaces with music. Now the area is a lake, a lake that contains music.
Almond’s writing is so incredibly beautiful here. He takes the haunting story of a musician saying farewell and welcome at the same time. He tells the story with poetry and awe, a hushed beauty filling the pages as he explains the wonder of the music that still lives within the lake. In his note at the end, Almond explains about the Tickells and Kathryn Tickell’s career as a well-known folk musician.
The illustrations by Pinfold are equally haunting. The lone stone buildings with their boarded doors and windows stand as witnesses but also ghosts on the landscape, soon to be covered by water. There are ghostly figures on the pages, swirling with the music and poetry, saying goodbye to the world they knew.
A gorgeous picture book that looks at the power of music and the wonder of a place. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
All Summer Long by Hope Larson (9780374304850)
Bina’s summer has just started, but it’s already going wrong. Her best friend, Austin, is heading to a month-long soccer camp. He’s also acting strangely and has decided that they are too old for some of their regular summer activities. Once he’s left for camp, Bina finds herself watching too much TV and just hanging out alone. Then she bumps into Austin’s older sister who turns out to be into music just like Bina is. The two of them start hanging out but when Austin returns things stay just as strange. Bina has to navigate her way through new friendships and old ones as she also grapples with her love of music and what that means for her friendships too.
Larson is the author of several graphic novels for children and teens. Here she tackles middle-school summers with a focus on music and individuality. Bina’s summer will feel familiar to readers, a stretch of time that is meant to be the best but ends up being time that needs filling with more than binge-watching TV. The incorporation of a friendship between a boy and a girl that does not involve romance or attraction is great to see. Readers will fret that Austin’s strange attitude means he “likes” Bita, but the truth makes sense and fits the story well.
The art is friendly and approachable. Done in a limited orange and black palette, it speaks of summer heat and sun. Bita herself is lanky and tall, her angles oozing with middle-school gawkiness in an appealing way. Her parents are just involved enough but also absent in a way that shows trust too.
A graphic novel perfect for summer reading. Appropriate for ages 12-14.
Reviewed from copy provided by Farrar Straus Giroux.
The 5 O’Clock Band by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, illustrated by Bryan Collier (9781419728365)
This second picture book by Andrews takes the reader on a trip through New Orleans. Shorty and his friends had formed a band. They called themselves the 5 O’Clock Band because that’s when they gathered to play. One day, Shorty got so caught up in his music that he missed the meeting time of the band. He tried to catch up with them, bringing the reader along on his walk past New Orleans landmarks and meeting musicians on the streets. Shorty longs to be a great bandleader and as he looks for his band, he learns lessons about being a leader along the way.
Filled with a deep love for the city of New Orleans, this picture book continues the story of Trombone Shorty’s childhood. Andrews’ writing is deft and musical, using repetition and rhythm to great effect. The illustrations by master Collier are lush and beautiful. They depict the richness of New Orleans on the page, filled with yellows and greens.
A jazzy picture book that inspires. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Flowers for Sarajevo by John McCutcheon, illustrated by Kristy Caldwell (9781561459438, Amazon)
Drasko sells flowers with his father in the marketplace in Sarajevo. They sell the best roses in the entire city. But when war came, Drasko’s father leaves to fight and Drasko is alone selling flowers. He is pushed out of their usual spot to one at the edge of the market. The only good thing is that he can now hear the symphony playing. Suddenly, the market is hit by a mortar and 22 people are killed. Drasko returns to the market the next day, but all is silent and empty. Then a man with a cello enters the square and sits down to play. For 22 days, he plays, once for each person who died. Around him, the market returns and Drasko works to find a way that he too can be courageous each day.
Based on the true story of Vedran Smailovic, the cellist who played, this picture book focuses on the impact of the bombing and the bravery of the cellist on one boy. Readers will realize that Drasko is brave from his approach to his father leaving and his returning day after day to sell flowers. The power of the music and the musician though brings that bravery into the light and shows how it’s important to be visibly brave for others too.
The illustrations by Caldwell are layered and misleadingly simple. They show Drasko’s loneliness but also his discovery of a community around him that will support him. The illustrations have inset pieces with frames that shatter with the mortar shell and then return to being whole as the story progresses.
A look at war and acts of bravery and art. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from library copy.