I picked The Really Awful Musicians by John Manders up out the new books bin at our of our libraries thinking it looked like fun, and I was right. What I didn’t anticipate is how nicely this one would dovetail with our history studies! Yes, that’s right, this comical-looking picture book is actually based on something that really happened. Well, sort of. The story itself is somewhat fantastical, with a talking horse and some hyperbole, but the backstory is there. The picture book bit is the story of Piffaro, a young pipe and drum player, who flees his home when the king outlaws all music because it’s so bad (as in poorly played, not morally deficient). The musicians play well individually, but together, they aren’t . . . together. In a fit of exasperation, the king decrees that all musicians who stick around and are caught will be fed to the crocodiles living in the castle moat! As Piffaro runs for his life, he collects several other musicians: a contrabass player, a harpist, a mandolin player, and a sackbut player. The format of the book makes it a fun one to read and share, and Manders‘ illustrations are cartoonish (you can see examples here) and match the story well. Hands down my children’s favorite part (including the DLM!) is the extremely entertaining repeated inclusion of the sounds the various instruments make. My kids’ favorites are pootpoot, pootpootpoot (the sound of the flute) and deedlediddledoodlediddledeedledeedlediddledoodle (the sound of the mandolin). The fact that the onomatopoeic text curls, marches, and floats across the page is icing on the cake. Of course, the musicians finally get it together, thanks to Piffaro’s horse, Charlemagne. (Ah, there’s the history hint!) I won’t give anything away, but if you have history or music lovers, I think this one will be a hit. My only complaint is that Charlemagne’s solution might’ve been explained/illustrated a little more thoroughly, but after all, this is a picture book, not a history treatise, and there is a one-page Author’s Note that fills in some of the spaces. This one’s fun. (Clarion, 2011)
First and foremost, Ella’s Big Chance is a Cinderella story, as its subtitle indicates. The fact that this is A Jazz-Age Cinderella means that the illustrations (read: the costumes) are beautiful, which is a given since Shirley Hughes is both the author and illustrator. This story has Ella Cinders working with her father in “a little dress shop in a quiet but elegant part of town.” Ella is happy in her life, learning to sew under her father’s expert tutelage and enjoying her friendship with Buttons, their doorman/deliverman. Of course, pretty soon Mr. Cinders acquires a new wife, thereby giving Ella a stepmother and two tall, thin, pinch-nosed stepsisters. The story goes along predictably, with the stepsisters and stepmother treating Ella poorly and eventually being invited to a grand ball given by a duchess in honor of her son, the Duke of Arc. Enter a fairy godmother with a magical umbrella, and Ella’s off to the ball, too. However, the story takes an expected-but-delightful turn when Ella eventually turns down the duke’s proposal to be with the man she loves. My girls, whom I’m learning aren’t too young to understand the dreaminess of romance (with little-to-no premature exposure!), practically swooned at this. It’s a nice twist on the let’s-go-be-a-princess theme that actually fits with the historical thrust of the story, too. The illustrations are gorgeous, with saturated jewel tones and lots of emotion and atmosphere. One thing I particularly appreciate is that Ella is depicted as being shorter and plumper than her stepsisters–she’s no Disney Cinderella with miniscule waist. Highly Recommended! (Simon & Schuster, 2003)
Snow isn’t something we get much of around here (except last year!), so maybe that explains my affinity for snow-themed picture books. Snow Music by Lynne Rae Perkins took me by surprise. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but this book is delightful! It’s not so much a story (which means we usually won’t like the book very much, actually) as it is an observation of the sounds one might hear when the world is covered in white. The first page is covered in collaged-together blue, purple, and green pebble shapes with the word peth on each one in white. In the middle of the page are the words “Everyone whisper:”. Let me tell you, that is a fun way to set the stage for this auditory experience! What follows is a quiet romp through a snowy world in which one little boy’s indoor dog has escaped. As we search for the dog, we see a deer, a squirrel, children, a bird, etc., and we observe what they experience in the snow. The squirrel, for example, is thinking this:
I left it–
I left it
somewhere. . .
I think I–
it here. . .
The text is not arranged linearly like it is above, but rather it is on a field of white snow in an erratic, skittering formation, much like a squirrel might make across the snow. The girls knew immediately what the squirrel was looking for. Do you? Really, I could go on about the quiet auditory and visual experience that is Snow Music, but I’ll just stop with a Highly Recommended. (Greenwillow Books, 2003)
I’ve actually reviewed quite a few snow-themed picture books here at Hope Is the Word. Here’s a list with links:
- Snow by Uri Shulevitz (Caldecott honor)
- A Cold Snap!: Frost Poems by Audrey B. Baird
- Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton
- The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats and Snowflake Bentley by Mary Azarian (plus several other titles, all in one post)
- Tracks in the Snow by Wong Herbert Yee
- Footprints and Shadows by Anne Wescott Dodd
- The Big Snow by Berta and Elmer Hader (Caldecott winner)
I don’t know how much snow we’re predicted to get this winter; reading great books like these may be the only way we get to experience the white stuff this year.