Tag Archives: music

You Can Do Anything – an inspirational tale with a Hip-Hop beat

One of the neat things about being an Independent Consultant with Usborne Books & More is coming across titles that I would never normally pick up, but that hold some pretty amazing messages. The newest in that category is Hip and Hop, You Can Do Anything, by Akala.

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Akala is an award winning UK Hip-Hop artist who also founded the Hip Hop Shakespeare company. As per their website, The Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company is a music theatre production company aimed at exploring the social, cultural and linguistic parallels between the works of William Shakespeare and that of modern day hip-hop artists. How cool is that? Continue reading →

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Stand Up and Sing!

Folk music has always held a special place in my heart. Summer camp meant singing time honored songs of this genre, and while others were listening to 80s hair bands, I was happily ensconced in American folk. I grew up knowing the words to almost every song by Peter, Paul and Mary, Simon & Garfunkle, Joan Collins, Bob Dylan and Crosby, Stills & Nash. From an early age this style of music touched me deeply and probably helped form some of my pacifist and liberal ideas.

Bloomsbury Children’s Books has just put out an amazing account of the life of Pete Seeger, one of the fathers of the American Folk movement called Stand Up and Sing! Pete Seeger, Folk Music, and the Path to Justice. Covering his life from early childhood to his death in 2014, author Susanna Reich put together a book that might help the next generation think more deeply about the world around them and the music they listen to.

For Seeger, music was in his bones, but he also was a very well read and aware of politics at an early age. He was a child of the Great Depression and had a really difficult time understanding why some people had great wealth and some had nothing. His father took him to parades and marches for working people and he saw how music could unite people.

Reich does a great job of showing how Seeger learned various music styles by traveling and being exposed to a wide variety of cultures and experiences. And just as Pete Seeger influenced a slew of other artists, it was Woody Guthrie who took him under his wing and showed him that “music could fill a room with peace and harmony.”

Pete Seeger used his music to try and make important changes in our world. He dreamed of a world where there were fewer people struggling to get by. He believed strongly in workers’ rights and racial equality, things that were considered “un-American” in his time. In the time of McCarthy, Pete was blacklisted for his beliefs.

An interesting part of the book comes when it talks about Seeger’s friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the fact that it was Seeger who introduced King to the song “We Shall Overcome.”

When I think of American Folk music, I think of the anti-war movement of the 1960s and 70s. Some of my all-time favorite tunes were ones that Seeger wrote but which I heard performed by Peter, Paul & Mary – If I Had a Hammer, Turn! Turn! Turn!, and Where have all the Flowers Gone. These were the songs that ached for peace and lamented a war that took so many lives and accomplished little to nothing.To me, folk music is all about bringing people together and lifting them up. Get the right group of adults together today and you can have a really awesome singing fest of music old and new. Music is a tool to inspire people. Pete Seeger inspired a generation of singers and songwriters along with activists and believers. This book is an awesome tribute to his life and his genius.

Every Wednesday I try to post a non-fiction picture book as part of the  Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy. There are truly so many amazing nonfiction picture books being published these days, it can be hard to contain myself sometimes. Make sure to check out Kid Lit Frenzy and the linked blogs to find some more fabulous books!

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Navigating the Orchestra

I love books that encourage children to experience music. Recently, I picked up the book Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin, by Lloyd Moss, at our library and was immediately entranced. What is even more ingenious about this book is that it is a counting book that happens to also build an orchestra.

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We have started taking our children to the orchestra when there is a local show that makes sense for them (Broadway tunes was a big hit). It is difficult to give them tons of information in the auditorium itself, so finding books that help them understand what they are hearing and seeing is especially useful.

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As the book opens, “with mournful moan and silken tune, itself alone came one trombone.” One instrument is a solo musician. Each page adds a new layer, player, description, and number. Through descriptive terminology and colorful illustrations, young readers get a better sense of the instruments that make up an orchestra.

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The book itself was written by Lloyd Moss, a radio personality for NY’s only full-time classical music station. He knows the perfect words to describe the instruments in an orchestra and Marjorie Priceman’s illustrations draw children in with their whimsy and movement.0016705_first_book_about_the_orchestra_300

After finding this book, it made me think about how few children do get to experience seeing an orchestra live. Fortunately, Usborne has a marvelous book that can help fill them in on a variety of key details. In Usborne’s First Book About the Orchestra, children get to see what the instruments that make up most orchestras look like, what families they belong to, and it has good sound that allows them to hear the instruments as well. A very intelligent thing that the First Book About the Orchestra does is that it utilizes one piece of music throughout the entire book showing how each the piece sounds when played by a single grouping of instruments and then how much fuller the sound is when all of the instruments are put together with the full orchestration.meet spread

If you are looking for a way to bring more music education to your child, these two books are a great place to start.

Nonfiction 10 for 10 2017 – Black History Month

Every year there is a meme for lists of nonfiction picture books called the 10 for 10. I don’t always remember to participate, but I am thrilled that I managed to get my act together this year. I started thinking about my list when I was deep in the throws of Multicultural Children’s Book Day and also finding some really wonderful books about strong women. So for my contribution this year, I give you 10 picture books about important aspects in African American History and one book that is less picture book and more a great listing of important people and moments in Black History.

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Thank you to Cathy Mere from Reflect and RefineMandy Robek of Enjoy and Embrace Learning  and Julie Balen of Write at the Edge for hosting this meme. Click here to read all of the top ten lists shared.

28daysEvery February we are reminded that it is Black History month. Author Charles R. Smith, Jr. admits that he has a love-hate relationship with Black History Month and I can see his point. Why? Because school children hear the same few stories over and over again and don’t really learn anything. In 28 Days, we are shown 28 subjects in chronological order from Crispus Attucks in 1776 through Barack Obama. This masterpiece brings Black History month to life.

apple-for-harrietAn Apple for Harriet Tubman brings to life what it was like to be a slave, to work endlessly but never taste the fruits of your labor in a way that children can understand. To continuously fear being whipped, to fear that you would be sold and separated from your family. It also teaches of the miracles that Harriet Tubman and those working on the Underground Railroad achieved.

henry-boxThe stories that people tell of escaping from slavery through the Underground Railroad are amazing, but learning of Henry’s story in Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad was astonishing. As a slave, his life was difficult, but with his family around him he made it through. When his wife and children were sold to different owners, however, he could no longer take his life. A few weeks later, he devised a plan along with help from others to literally ship himself to freedom.  His story became famous and is a very interesting perspective for children to read.

juneteenthEvery year there is apparently a celebration of freedom that I had never heard of. According to author Floyd Cooper in Juneteenth for Mazie, every June 19th “Juneteenth commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery and the emancipation of African-American citizens throughout the entire United States.” This sweet story is told as a father reminds young Mazie of the important time when her great-great-great-grandfather crossed into liberty. It reminds all children of the hardships that African-Americans faced in this country, the struggles that they continued to deal with after earning their freedom, and just how far they have come.

first-stepWhen we think about the fight to end segregation in schools, we usually think about Brown vs the Board of Education in 1954. But in The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial, we learn the story of how Sarah Roberts and her family started that fight back in 1847 in Boston. Her family knew that the Otis School was for white students only, but it was also tremendously closer than the closest school for African-Americans and far superior. She went to the Otis school without a problem until the school board realized and a policeman came and escorted her out. Her parents fought the rule of school segregation, led by a law team of Robert Morris and Charles Sumner, an African-American and a white man who “despised the way his country treated African Americans.” They lost, but they started a spark. Sarah’s father got people to sign petitions that said that all children should be able to attend their neighborhood schools and the people of Boston agreed. In 1855, Boston became the first major American city to integrate its schools. This outstanding book showed how the fight had to continue through the Civil War, the KKK, Jim Crow laws and finally with Linda Brown and her family taking the case to the Supreme Court but this time winning. A very powerful and moving book.

books-and-bricksEducation plays a common theme in books about the African American experience. In With Books & Bricks: How Booker T. Washington Built a School, we see the amazing story of how Booker T. Washington created what is now Tuskeegee University. As a child, Booker T. Washington got a glimpse of a schoolhouse while a slave and felt a magical pull. When slavery ended, Washington wanted to learn to read more than anything else, and while he did learn, he still had to work back-breaking hours in salt and coal mines. When he heard of a school in Virginia that actually taught Black students, he saved money to find his way there.  After getting his own education, he became a teacher himself. He got a job in Tuskegee, but there was no building. He slowly built a school, brick by brick. Amazing perseverance and determination.

thestoryofrubybridgesWe can all learn an invaluable lesson from young Ruby Bridges as eloquently described in The Story of Ruby Bridges. In 1960 she was the first black child to attend an all-white elementary school in New Orleans. Every day, she was ushered into school with Federal Marshalls because the local police didn’t want to help her and there were large crowds of angry white people telling her that she didn’t belong. She learned to read and write in a classroom all by herself for, out of protest, none of the white children were sent to school. Each day, before and after school, she prayed for the people around her, not for herself, “because even if they say those bad things, they don’t know what they’re doing.” Ruby Bridges showed true bravery and this is a wonderful tribute to her.

ruth-and-green-bookWe take for granted that we can drive across the country and find the amenities we need just off the road. We even have signs telling us what food, gas, and lodging awaits us at the next off-ramp. But for African-Americans, that was definitely not always the case. Ruth and the Green Book tells us of young Ruth who was leaving Chicago for the first time to drive to her grandmother’s in Alabama. Along the way, they struggled to find bathrooms and hotels that would give them the time of day. In Tennessee, a friend gave them a warning about Jim Crow laws and struggles as they went further south and told them to look out for Esso gas stations. At the first Esso they found they were told about the Negro Motorist Green Book which listed places that black people would be welcome and it changed the rest of their travels. A wonderful lesson about a trying time in American history and the power of a group of people to band together, support each other, and make the best of it. The book also has a wonderful page of the history of the Green Book in the back.

ellingtonA look at Black History would be incomplete without a look at jazz music. One of the jazz greats was Duke Ellington. This colorful book by Andrea Davis Pinkney tells of Ellington’s early years and how ragtime music brought him back to playing the piano. He became a legend in the musical world. With great illustrations and lyrical text, this book tries to bring jazz to the reader.

charlestonHey Charleston! The True Story of the Jenkins Orphanage Band brings us the history of the Charleston along with the wonderful story of Reverend Daniel Joseph Jenkins. Reverend Jenkins inadvertently set up an orphanage for young boys in 1891. To drown out the colorful words coming from the prison next door, Jenkins had the boys singing. That gave him the idea to teach the boys how to play musical instruments along with their regular school lessons. Before long, the Jenkins Orphanage Band was playing music with a rhythm and style known as rag and some of the boys would lead the band by doing a dance inspired by their Geechee heritage. When they went to play in New York City, people didn’t know the name of the band and would instead yell out, “Hey, Charleston! Give us some rag!” People would dance along with the leaders in what would become the Charleston. This was a fascinating book about an important part of musical and cultural history not to be missed!

willieBaseball is America’s sport. Willie and the All-Stars  gives voice to the time before Jackie Robinson, a time when African-Americans were not allowed to play on the white teams. Back then, there was the Negro League where exceptionally talented Black men could play baseball. The story is a wake-up call for young Willie who loves baseball, but doesn’t even realize that there is a Negro League. He dreams of being a baseball player and the Major League is where the “real” players play. But Ol’ Ezra teaches him that “being a Major League ballplayer is about a lot more than how good a fella is. It’s also about the color of his skin. And yours is the wrong color.” The Negro Leauge is an important part of baseball history, just as the All-American Girls’ Professional Baseball League is. This is a marvelous book for baseball fans and historians alike, although I think it would have also been great to mention the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.

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The Orphan Singer

orphan-coverThere are times when books move us, but we can’t put our finger on exactly what it is that sets it apart. The Orphan Singer, by Emily Arnold McCully, is one such book. Even more interesting is that the story is based on real Venetian institutions that cared for orphaned girls while giving them amazing musical educations.

The Orphan Singer tells of a family in 18th century Venice with a musically gifted son, Antonio Dolci. He loves to sing and has the voice of an angel but his family cannot afford vocal training due to their extreme poverty. When their newborn daughter, Nina, shows signs of musical prodigy as well, they lament keeping her from her destiny. A brilliant, but tragic idea comes in the form of “abandoning” her to the “ospedalo,” an orphanage that also boasted a superb music conservatory. orphan-singer-3

The young girl, renamed Caterina by the ospedalo, grows and is an outstanding singer. While her voice is angelic, her behavior is problematic, causing friction with the instructors. The pain of the Dolcis’ sacrifice eases somewhat as they eventually attend concerts performed by the ospedalo’s chorus and befriend their growing daughter, never informing her of their bond. When the family doesn’t appear one day because Antonio is deathly ill, she realizes how important they are to her and sneaks out to him. When Caterina’s voice proves the elixir that heals Antonio, she knows that their bond can only be one of family.

orphan-singer-2Caterina knows that she should be kicked out of the chorus for sneaking out, but fortunately, the teacher who opens the door upon her return is kind and understands why she went. That kindness is paid back tenfold as it teaches Caterina to lead with kindness and teach all of the younger girls.

Both J and I really enjoyed this book. The illustrations pull you back to Venice in the 1800s. The rich colors in the clothes of those with money versus the drab clothing of those without is an example of the simple, but important details. This is a true to life story of a society that treasured music and artistic talent. Filled with beautiful artwork and fascinating details, this book is a masterpiece.