Books Provide a Glimpse of History through Music

by Janelle Mathis, University of North Texas

A Is for Audra cover features six leading ladies of broadway sharing a stageAs we realize, music has been part of mankind’s history since its beginning. The 2019 published books shared here reflect only a few of the ways it has been woven into lives but can encourage readers to seek instances across genre. Broadway is known as the place where music and story intersect in powerful ways and the voices of Broadway impact how these stories are told. A Is for Audra, written by John Robert Allman and illustrated by Peter Emmerich, informs readers about leading ladies who have performed through song, dance and drama on some of the world’s most important stages. With an A-to-Z format, this book celebrates women of Broadway and their noted roles. There have also been biographies of musicians during 2019 that reveal music’s significance in their lives and, thus, their impact in bringing varied music to others. Guitar Genius: How Les Paul Engineered the Solid-Body Electric Guitar and Rocked the World, written by Kim Tomsic and illustrated by Brett Helquist, speaks to invention as well as music. Elvis is King! by Jonah Winter relates details of Elvis’s life with 3-dimensional, hand-built and photographed illustrations by Red Nose Studio.

Cover of Bach to the Rescue depicts in bold color and geometric shapes a blond Bach at the piano with a red-headed figure over his right shoulder and a curly-mustached, white wigged man over his left shoulder.Classical music is alive and well and creators of books for young readers work to make this genre relevant while maintaining its original integrity. The Magic Flute: The Classic Opera by Wolfgang Amadesu Mozart, replayed by Chris Raschka, is one such story. Through his art and own interpretation of this famous musical work and what inspired it, Raschka creates “book-music” (a term mentioned in the inside cover summary). Tom Angelberger brings to life another historical name in Bach to the Rescue!!!: How a Rich Dude Who Couldn’t Sleep Inspired the Greatest Music Ever. Whether or not this actually happened or is a legend that has been retold over the years, this author along with the illustrations of Elio provide a humorous story that encourages readers to listen to the music of Bach, in particularly the Goldberg Variations with a story that connects them to times past. And, one of my favorite books of 2019 that brings to life classical music and musicians is Playlist: the Rebels and Revolutionaries of Sound, written by James Rhodes and illustrated by Martin O’Neill. With a gracious opening that pleads to give classical music a chance, advocate and pianist James Rhodes shares his passion for making classical music relatable to the contemporary audiences. The support music gave him as a young person has resulted in not only his piano artistry but a wealth of knowledge about the 7 selected composers that point to these men as interestingly human. He provides names of other amazing musicians/composers that one might discover and explains why our acknowledged classical composers are not ethnically diverse. Rhodes created a Spotify playlist for the book and encourages readers to listen as they discover stories of the composers. This book is a rich collection of multimodal information that I am still working my way through.

Mama Mable cover is done in collage-style with lots of people playing instruments and dancing around Mama MableOf course, historical events inclusive of music continue to be present in new publications. One example is Patricia Polacco’s The Bravest Man in the World. This book is inspired by the story of Wallace Hartley who was the head musician aboard the Titanic. With her engaging approach to story, Polacco shares the power of music as Hartley played to calm people as the ship sank. Jazz Extravaganza! Mama Mable’s All-Gal Big Band by Annie Sieg is a celebration of the female swing bands during World War II. Sieg gathered insights about well-known female performers of the era to focus on the joy, hope and resilience of this music. And, finally, Sing a Song: How “Lift Every Voice and Sing” Inspired Generations, written by Kelly Starling Lyons and illustrated by Keith Mallett, shares the history of this song written more than a century ago. The story takes readers through 5 generations of families reflecting the significance of the song. Emphasis is on the words, but the importance of the music has been sustained as each family sings and teaches this song of hope to new generations.

Historically, music has sustained, entertained, and provided a way to give voice to our stories and beliefs. I welcome any recent recommendations, especially novels where music’s role to individuals and communities is reflected.

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