Cognitive Relationships between Music and Language

Janelle Mathis, University of North Texas

Timbaland cover features an African American child with a cupped hand to his ear, listening to the city generally and specifically to the subtitle text Nighttime Symhony curving into his ear.For this last post focused on the role of literature in supporting music’s importance as a multimodal approach to living and learning in the global society, we consider books that reflect the cognitive support between language and music. The development of both music and language for young learners has been revealed as a somewhat reciprocal process. Recent research, has revealed that the brain regions that process syntax are also responsible for other communicative forms such as music. Concepts about print, conventions of print, rhythm, rhyme and patterned texts are each nurtured by music. Phonological awareness and auditory discrimination of letters and notes, important in language learning, are also important in developing communication through music. Literature offers resources that support these processes. Poetry, obviously, provides rhythm and often rhyme; onomatopoetic words within text can sharpen listening skills; language can help develop a sense of dynamics, tempo, and emotional qualities; and books that point to the importance of listening to the sounds around us link the natural world as a form of communication. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Literary Insights to Social, Traditional and Cultural Aspects of Music

by Janelle Mathis, University of North Texas

Music is often a focus in literature as readers learn about this communicative art form. It is also a way of contextualizing a character, an event or a culture–revealing a diversity of insights into the daily lives and cultures of the people within the stories told. The books shared here, all published in 2019, represent just a few of the ways music exists in our lives. Three of the books are picturebooks sharing family joy that is supported and expressed through music.

Freedom Soup cover shows a Haitian grandmother in a head scarf dancing in kitchen with child in braids.Freedom Soup by Tami Charles and illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara is a Haitian story told around the Haitian new year custom of making and eating Freedom Soup, a tradition reflecting the Haitian Revolution. As Ti Gran teaches Belle how to make Freedom Soup, readers experience the process as well as the music that enlivens the experience. The kompa not only provides music as they dance around the kitchen, but most importantly, it provides background for Ti Gran as she tells the story of the Haitian Revolution. Both text and illustration afford readers the jubilant feel of the music. Continue reading

Literature that Engages Readers In Music

By Janelle Mathis, University of North Texas

Music and Literature

Skating Over Think Ice by Jean MillsMusic as a multimodal form of communication can be traced back to primitive societies where it served in many cultural roles, for example in religious rituals, healing processes or sharing societal ideologies. Throughout history, music has been an aesthetic engagement for both performers and listeners, a source of hopefulness and encouragement, as well as a cognitive practice. Music aligns with literature in that both enable us to share our stories (often with stories embedded in music), learn more about ourselves and others and comprehend the world around us as it supports the development of intercultural competencies. It is more recently acknowledged that music and literacy are processed through the same cognitive areas of the brain, pointing to an even closer connection between language and music (Mathis, 2019). Continue reading

Books that Invite Smiles

By Janelle Mathis, University of North Texas

As this week brings to a close my sharing some personal highlights of this year’s Outstanding International Book Award list, I wanted to mention a few titles that left me smiling for a number of different reasons. While many of the rich international titles are ones that challenge us to be responsible readers and take on new perspectives and difficult topics, there is also the universally shared pleasure in reading. What makes us smile could be that the situation in the book is one we have experienced or one that is ironically silly; a smile could come from how the illustrator depicts a character with personality, often with the simplicity of lines and positioning; and we could just smile because of the satisfactory solution to a problem that a character finds. While humor and laughing out loud are not outside the reading experience, a smile can be that satisfactory emotional expression that connects us in many ways to our reading.

I Really Want to See You, Grandma cover Continue reading

Contemplating Children Dealing with Personal Issues

By Janelle Mathis, University of North Texas

Me and My Fear by Francesca SannaWhile many books position children in personal and social roles that can present challenges, this year’s Outstanding International Books List (OIB) and submissions include some titles unique in both topic and format. The intended audience for these books is child and adolescent readers, however adult readership can gain insights into personal issues faced by children, how they cope, where they need support and the situations in which these issues can be contextualized. Continue reading

Explore Imagination through Outstanding International Book Characters

By Janelle Mathis, University of North Texas

Imagination in its many forms is present in much of children’s and young adult literature just as it is in “real” life. It can help us deal with situations that are seemingly beyond our control, express ourselves in authentic ways through other sign systems, create practical solutions to everyday needs or desires, position ourselves in other contexts as we work to understand other perspectives and eras and add an enjoyable fantasy element to our lives. I always enjoy revisiting the following quote: “Imagining possibilities is at the core of understanding other people, other times, and other places” (Wilhelm and Edmiston, 1998, p. 4). I also am reminded of Frank Smith’s idea (1992) that imagination makes reality possible (1992). So, while there are many ways to celebrate imagination in children’s literature, I would like to share, from the 2019 (published in English in 2018) OIB list, a few very basic examples of children using imagination in seemingly simplistic ways. I believe that these are the seeds that can grow into more complex uses of imagination as children grow into creative and responsible adults.

Cover for Stories of the Night by Kitty Crowther Continue reading

USBBY Award-Winning Books: The Role Literature Plays in Supporting Music

By Janelle B. Mathis, University of North Texas

USBBY LogoBoth the prestigious American Library Association Awards and the USBBY Outstanding International Book Award lists in children’s and young adult literature were recently announced. This list of 39 translated books that cut across age levels from Pre-K to YA offers many genres, themes and countries of origin with a variety of potential uses in the classroom. While the OIB committee, on which I served this year, suggests potential thematic connections in their discussions as well as in the School Library Journal article announcing the list, I would like to share some personal connections I made while reading and discussing these books. Most of these connections cut across the award list, but later this month, I will share some excellent books that didn’t make the final list as well as other recently published books. Continue reading

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MTYT: The House of Lost and Found

By Janelle B. Mathis, PhD, University of North Texas and Katie Loomis, Librarian and Doctoral Student, University of North Texas

In this last installment of January’s MTYT, Janelle B. Mathis and Katie Loomis talk about the picturebook The House of Lost and Found, translated from Swedish and written by Martin Widmark and Emilia Dziubak. The theme for this month focuses on child agency and situations where children can relate to adults through personal relationship, actions, words or questions. This is the heartwarming story of how a chance encounter with a child turns into a positive life changing beginning for the main character.

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MTYT: The Visitor

By Janelle B. Mathis, PhD, University of North Texas and Katie Loomis, Librarian and Doctoral Student, University of North Texas

In the fourth installment of January’s MTYT, Janelle B. Mathis and Katie Loomis talk about the picturebook The Visitor, written by Antje Damm and translated by Sally-Ann Spencer. The theme for this month focuses on child agency and situations where children can relate to adults through personal relationship, actions, words or questions.

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