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April is National Poetry Month. As a teacher I always pulled out the anthologies and did poet profiles and had my students create poems of their own based on popular styles and forms. But it wasn’t until I was working as a librarian that I made the connection between poetry and music (I know, duh!) So, when April rolls around now I try to make an effort to at least point out the connection especially since so many people think of poetry as being either indecipherable or too academic or in some other way un-relatable. So, here are a few books about music (some with lyrics that can be appreciated as poetry and one without lyrics at all.) And I’d love for you to share your favorites with me in the comments below!
When The Rite of Spring ballet was first presented to audiences in 1913 it was so different from anything people had heard or seen an actual riot broke out in the theater. Some people loved it and some people hated it and it continues to be divisive to this day. This book tells the story of how it all came to be.
Igor Stravinsky was a successful composer who had already revolutionized music with his unusual uses of rhythms and dissonance. Vaslav Nijinsky was a highly celebrated ballet dancer. But when the two met, their individual talents seemed to expand. Nijinsky choreographed the dancing to Stravinsky’s music, both using heavy Russian influences in honor of their home country.
I’ve never been a huge fan of The Rite of Spring though I love some of Stravinsky’s other work and I can only imagine what it must have been like to hear it (and see it) all for the first time. I loved learning about these two men and can definitely appreciate their influence on musical history. There’s some great back matter here too including photos of the men and the dancers in their costumes. There’s also a great note on the illustrations which are bright and a little unconventional, a perfect fit for the text.
When Stravinsky Met Nijinsky: Two Artists, Their Ballet and One Extraordinary Riot
Written and Illustrated by: Lauren Stringer
Number of Pages: 32
Publisher: Harcourt Children’s Books, 2013
Age Range: 7-11
Simon and Garfunkel have long been one of my musical inspirations. I grew up listening to my parent’s vinyl copies of Sounds of Silence and Bridge Over Troubled Waters over and over, watching their Central Park concert on TV and even seeing them in concert in person when they toured a few years ago. So I was beyond thrilled to hear about this book and wasn’t disappointed.
Each spread gives the reader a rich illustration accompanying a free verse mini-chapter titled after one of their songs. Starting with the Central Park concert it then flashes back thirty years to when the boys’ childhoods growing up in the same neighborhood in Queens. Their paths don’t really cross until Artie (Garfunkel) sings at a school talent show and Paul (Simon) is struck by the hypnotic voice and decides he’s going to learn to sing like that too. They become friends who spend the bulk of their time studying music, imitating the sounds of new comers like Elvis, and honing their own sounds after a few misses.
As they grow they become increasingly influenced by the folk music scene and Bob Dylan in particular who not only sings but spreads messages of change and revolution with his music. They spend time away from music, time apart and eventually join forces again, this time finding success. And the rest is history.
There’s a lot of depth here, a lot of information covered. And tons of great back matter including a discography, afterword and bibliography detailing the writing process, a list of musical connections and influences…in essence, something for everyone.
When Paul Met Artie
Written by: G. Neri
Illustrated by: David Litchfield
Number of Pages: 48
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2018
Age Range: 8-12
Clive was born in Jamaica but moved to NYC when he was thirteen. He loved all kinds of music and imagined himself a DJ creating sounds and experiences for the people who showed up at the clubs and house parties to dance. He soon started hosting his own parties in their Bronx housing project and when they got too big and crowded to be contained inside they spilled out into the streets. He revolutionized the music world and influenced the rappers, break dancers, and other DJs that were just starting to find their footing in the late 70s and early 80s.
I know absolutely nothing about hip hop music so everything in this book was a revelation for me. Filled with vibrant colors, tons of information and fantastic back matter (including an author’s note, timeline, and bibliography). This is a fabulous resource for music lovers and those, like me, who might have little knowledge of the evolution of an entire subculture.
When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop
Written by: Laban Carrick Hill
Illustrated by: Theodore Taylor III
Number of Pages: 32
Publisher: Roaring Book Press, 2013
Age Range: 8-12