Give the Gift of Music | A "Great Books" List

Ranging in format from illuminating biographical stories to engaging fictional narratives, these picture books published during 2015 celebrate the power of music to lift hearts and change lives.
Ranging in format from illuminating biographical stories and based-in-truth tales to engaging fictional narratives, these lovely picture books all celebrate the power of music to lift hearts and change lives. These titles can be shared with kids to introduce a variety of musicians and genres, underscore the importance of creativity, and illustrate that dreams can come true through hard work and perseverance. And don’t forget to expand the literary experience by pairing these affecting books with recordings of the highlighted music found online or in library collections. Music1Bird & Diz. by Gary Golio. Illus. by Ed Young. Candlewick. 2015. Tr $19.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-6660-6. Gr 3 Up–Presented on one eye-dazzling double-sided accordion pull-out, this tribute to bebop pioneers Charlie “Bird” Parker and John “Dizzy” Gillespie sizzles with pulsating free-verse text and vivacious visuals. The two maestros join together for a rousing rendition of “Salt Peanuts,” as Diz “swing[s] his trumpet, and faces Bird…/who raises his sax and joins in the game./They take turns,/tossing notes back and forth like jugglers,/or play at the same time,/…Two hearts—one heartbeat.” Luscious loose-lined renderings of the duo give way more and more to bursts of sound-scintillating colors as the tempo picks up and the musicians “Let it rip!” Readers will enjoy exploring this boisterous book while listening to the song, and then, as the afterword directs, picking up their crayons to draw. music2Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music. by Margarita Engle. Illus. by Rafael López. HMH. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-544-10229-3; ebook $16.99. ISBN 9780544102286. Gr 1-4–Inspired by the childhood of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a Chinese-African-Cuban musician who broke gender boundaries in early 20th-century Cuba, this exquisite picture book eloquently melds fact with fancy. Though everyone tells her that only boys play drums, the young protagonist continues to dream about tapping on tall congas, small bongós, and “big, round, silvery/moon-bright timbales”—until she finally finds a way to share her music with the world. The melodious free-verse narrative and imagination-stirring acrylic paintings celebrate the multicultural melting pot that is Cuba, the magic of music, and the courage to dream big. music3Elvis: The Story of the Rock and Roll King. by Bonnie Christensen. Illus. by author. Holt. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780805094473; ebook also available. Gr 2-5–Beginning with his 1935 birth in East Tupelo and “poor as sin” childhood in Mississippi and Tennessee, Christensen’s lyrical text and striking collage artwork intimately depict a “shy mama’s boy” who was often derided by his peers. Elvis found comfort in the music, the pop ballads and country tunes on the radio along with the jazz, blues, spirituals, and gospel that managed to bridge the divide between segregated neighborhoods. These influences shined through during a studio session in 1954, when the nerve-jangled teenager grabbed a guitar and belted out a version of “That’s All Right” that was all his own—“ragged, raw Delta blues, with bits of country/and moments of gospel./Black and white music all mixed up together”—a record that set Presley on the road to fame. music4Fab Four Friends: The Boys Who Became the Beatles. by Susanna Reich. Adam Gustavson. Holt. 2015. $17.99. ISBN 9780805094589; ebook also available. Gr 2-5–Beginning with John Lennon and ending with late-comer Ringo Starr, this accessible picture book zooms in on the early days of each member of the Fab Four, accentuating well-chosen facts and delectable anecdotes that bring each of their personalities to life, while also underscoring the hard work and perseverance, passion for the new-fangled sounds of rock ’n’ roll, and burgeoning friendship that would become the bedrock of the band. Reich’s descriptive rhythm-filled writing and Gustavson’s oil paintings of moments both intimate and iconic strike the perfect chord. music5Finding the Music/ En pos de la música. by Jennifer Torres. Illus. by Renato Alarcão. Children’s Book Pr. 2015. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9780892392919. Gr 2–Reyna spends much time at her mother’s busy restaurant, nestled in her favorite booth where the cherished old vihuela that her grandpa played long ago when he was in a mariachi band hangs on the wall. When she accidentally breaks the guitar-like instrument, she resolves to get it fixed before telling Mamá. During her journey through her neighborhood and interactions with various caring adults, Reyna makes wonderful discoveries about Abuelito, the long-lasting impact of his music, and the warmth of her close-knit community. A bilingual text and soft-hued, detail-filled artwork tell a tender tale about music, family, and community. music6Frankie Liked to Sing. by John Seven. Illus. by Jana Christy. Abrams. 2015. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-1-4197-1644-7. Gr 1-3–Growing up in Hoboken, New Jersey, young Sinatra was certainly different from the other kids—dressing in a fancy suit and flashy fedora and singing loudly wherever and whenever he could find the opportunity (alone in his room, in his dad’s saloon, at his job after he dropped out of high school). Upbeat text and spirited sherbet-hued artwork describe how a love of music, lots of hard work, and a warm-toned voice that made “everyone…feel like they knew him and he knew them” resulted in a stellar recording, performing, and movie career. An author’s note includes a contemporary photo of the snazzy-suited Frankie and suggested songs for young listeners. music7The Grasshopper & the Ants. by Jerry Pinkney. Illus. by the author. Little, Brown. 2015. Tr $18. ISBN 978-0-316-40081-7. PreS-Gr 2–Grasshopper, with a bass drum and cymbal, banjo, and concertina, invites the always diligent food-gathering ants to “dance and sing!” and enjoy the wonders of the changing seasons, to no avail. As winter intensifies, the long-legged creature shivers in the deepening snow, affected by loneliness as much as the bitter cold. A glimpse into the ants’ cozy domicile shows that they remain as busy as ever. However, when Queen Ant invites Grasshopper indoors for a steaming cup of tea, he shares his music, and the tempo changes from hard work to happy celebration. Fine-tuned and beautifully illustrated, this version of an Aesop’s fable points out that there is a place for both industry and artistry. music8Ketzel the Cat Who Composed. by Lesléa Newman. Illus. by Amy June Bates. Candlewick. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-6555-5. PreS-Gr 2–Strolling the city streets in search of inspiration, composer Moshe Cotel finds a tiny black-and-white kitten in an ally and takes her home, promising, “we will make beautiful music together.” Later on, when Moshe despairs while struggling to write a shorter-than-60-second composition for a contest, a concerned Ketzel darts across the piano keys, determined to get rid of the letter announcing the competition. Her resulting opus, “Piece for Piano: Fours Paws,” garners an honorable mention and a concert hall performance (attended by Moshe, and Ketzel, of course, nestled away inside his jacket). Based on a true story, this picture book’s enchanting narrative and winsome paintings celebrate the exhilaration of creativity and the comfort of sure-footed friendship. music9One Bear Extraordinaire. by Jayme McGowan. Illus. by author. Abrams. 2015. $16.95. ISBN 978-1-4197-1654-6. PreS-Gr 2–Known for his “nimble paws, honey harmonies, and twinkle-toed grace,” Bear is used to playing solo, but something’s missing from the song he is currently working on. He sets off through the forest to find the answer, picking up a banjo-strumming fox, an accordion-playing raccoon, and fiddle-bowing rabbit along the way. When they meet enthusiastic Wolf Pup, his true talents remain hidden away until the full moon rises that evening and the tyke lets loose with a “wild and wondrous” howl. Now the band is complete and the song sounds just right. McGowan’s high-spirted telling and charming three-dimensional cup-paper artwork applaud the sweet harmony found in friendship. doc watsonTalkin’ Guitar: A Story of Young Doc Watson. by Robbin Gourley. Illus. by author. Clarion. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-544-12988-7; ebook $16.99. ISBN 9780544133464. K-Gr 3–Gourley focuses on the formative years of a beloved folk icon. Born “into a world of music,” young Arthel, who was blind, listened carefully to his Mama singing him to sleep, the river rushing nearby, and “the sound of the wind and the rain in the trees.” As the years passed, his Pappy gave him a harmonica, made him a banjo, and eventually bought him a guitar, which he practiced in between doing chores on the farm. His surroundings and experiences helped him find the confidence to make music on his own, and now “Arthel could play what he couldn’t see.” Lilting language and luminous watercolor paintings depicting the Appalachian mountain setting create a tale filled with family love, determination, and hope. swing sistersSwing Sisters: The Story of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm. by Karen Deans. Illus. by Joe Cepeda. Holiday House. 2015. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-0-8234-1970-8. Gr 2-5– To share his love of music, Dr. Laurence Clifton Jones launched an all-girl swing band at his school for African American orphans near Jackson, Mississippi, in 1939. Talented and hard-working, the Sweethearts remained together after leaving Piney Woods, traveling the country in their own bus (“Big Bertha”), gradually filling their ranks with musicians of “many races and nationalities,” and finally hitting the “big-time.” Accessible text and vibrant, textured oil paintings tell this true story of jazz trailblazers, effectively touching upon the challenges of racial and gender discrimination and traveling in the Jim Crow South, while also trumpeting the joys of making music and showing “the world how to swing!” shortyTrombone Shorty. by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews. Illus. by Bryan Collier. Abrams. 2015. Tr $17.95. ISBN 978-1-4197-1465-8. Gr 1-4–A vivid sense of place—New Orleans’s historic Tremé neighborhood—and the passion to persevere despite challenging circumstances permeate this outstanding autobiographical picture book. Inspired by their sound-infused surroundings but unable to afford instruments, young Troy and his friends fabricated them from discarded objects in order to make their own music. When Troy finally found a beat-up trombone (it was twice his size, hence the nickname coined by his trumpet-blowing older brother), he practiced day and night, his hard work culminating in the moment when the legendary Bo Diddley pulled him out of the audience and onto the stage at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival—and he hasn’t stopped performing since. Heartfelt storytelling and watercolor-and-collage paintings swirling with color and movement convey an amazing and inspiring true story. See also Joy Fleishhacker's great picture book lists about buses, monsters, and imaginary friends.

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