Archive for the ‘Creativity’ Category

Review of Playlist, by James Rhodes

Wednesday, April 1st, 2020

Playlist

The Rebels and Revolutionaries of Sound

by James Rhodes
illustrated by Martin O’Neill

Candlewick Studio, 2019. 68 pages.
Review written April 1, 2020, from a library book
2019 Cybils Award Winner, Senior High Nonfiction
Starred Review

This book is visually stunning as well as audibly stunning (more on that in a minute). It’s oversized, but many will realize it’s the same square shape and size as a record album.

Once inside, every spread is a presentation. This is an author who loves classical music and is excited about it. If anyone can communicate that love and excitement to a young reader, this would be the person.

Here’s an excerpt from his Introduction:

I’ll be honest with you: classical music is not usually seen as riveting material for a book. I know that. You know that. It is thought of as dull, irrelevant, belonging to other (usually old) people, and about as interesting as algebra. I will say this though: classical music saved my life when I was a kid. And even today, many years later, every single time I listen to it, it makes me feel amazing.

Classical music has a bad and, in my mind, unfair reputation. Those composers with the white curly wigs, such as Bach and Mozart, might seem super old-fashioned now. But they were the original rock stars. They changed history, inspired millions, and are still listened to and worshipped all around the world today. So I hope you’ll leave behind your preconceptions: even if you think you hate it, give it an hour or two of your time and then decide.

It does have to be said that there are a LOT of classical composers, and it can be quite overwhelming to decide where to begin. I have chosen seven composers to get us started. For each composer I have selected two pieces to discuss and listen to. I’m also going to explain a bit about the lives of the composers. (You won’t believe some of their stories. Did you know Beethoven peed into a chamber pot he kept under his piano and Bach had twenty children?) I’ve chosen Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert, Rachmaninoff, and Ravel: the perfect introduction to classical music.

So that gives the format of what follows: We’ll have a spread for each composer, then a spread telling about his life, then a spread for each of the two pieces of music that James Rhodes analyzes for us. And that’s what makes this book extra vivid: At the front he’s got a playlist of all the music. You put tinyurl.com/jamesrhodesplaylist into a browser, and you’ll get to listen to all the pieces on Spotify. So you get to listen to the music as he describes it.

And his enthusiastic descriptions help you appreciate and understand the significance of the pieces he chooses.

All of his descriptions ring with his love for the pieces. Here’s an example taken from the spread about Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Finale:

As we know, Rachmaninoff was a giant, and this concerto requires really, really big hands. He asks the pianist to play enormous chords and super-fast runs of notes and jumps from the bottom of the keyboard to the top and back again. The last movement, which we’re going to focus on here, is my favorite, for reasons that will become obvious as you listen to it. It has everything that any music fan could ever want – incredible, unforgettable melodies, insane piano pyrotechnics (I mean just listen to the first time the piano enters!), excitement, melancholy, heartbreak, and heroism, all in eleven minutes. There are giant cymbal crashes, sweeping romantic tunes with the entire orchestra and solo piano playing at full volume, and an electrifying ending. But it’s the big tune, perhaps his most famous melody, that really does it for me. It starts at 1’47, and Rachmaninoff, knowing how special it is, repeats it three times during the course of the movement, each time adding little touches and making it fresher and more magnificent until the very last time (9’55 OMG), when it becomes this enormous, grand, sweeping melody that has inspired dozens of Hollywood composers and would feel right at home in one of the Jurassic Park, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, or Incredibles movies.

Speaking of movies, in the section on the composer’s life, he always includes some movies that use music by the composer.

There are some additional spreads with musical terms and a timeline of Western Classical Music, and absolutely nothing in this book is remotely boring. It gives the reader a nice background of classical music, and a wonderful audio sampling of the riches you can find there.

At first when I opened this book, I was reluctant to go to the trouble of listening to the playlist. By the time I was done, I was eager to hear and notice the things James Rhodes pointed out.

As he says to finish his Introduction:

So, this is my plea: give this music a chance. Read the book, listen to the pieces in the playlist I’ve built for you (turn the page!), and then, if you want, NEVER listen to it again, safe in the knowledge you’ve given it a go and hated it. But maybe, just maybe, it’ll blow your mind and improve your life a little bit, and you’ll want to send me a giant box of cookies as a thank-you. (I’m not even joking – send as many as you like.)

Enjoy. Take it slowly. Allow yourself to experience something magical.

Count me as someone whose mind was blown. Though in lieu of sending cookies, I’m writing this review.

candlewickstudio.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Watchman and Other Poems, by L. M. Montgomery

Friday, September 20th, 2019

The Watchman and Other Poems

by L. M. Montgomery

Leopold Classic Library, reproduced from McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart Publishers, 1916. 159 pages.
Review written September 20, 2019, from my own copy

I’m rereading my L. M. Montgomery books in publication order, but never had found a copy of her book of poems, the eighth book she published. I found it in a reprint on Amazon and rectified that omission.

I am probably not the best audience for poetry. And these are old-fashioned in style, often using archaic language. They all rhyme, and many of the rhymes seem trite.

The story goes that when Maud Montgomery was a girl, she tried her hand at unrhymed poetry and read an example to her father. He said it didn’t sound like poetry.

She said, “It’s blank verse.”
He replied, “Very blank.”

And she wrote rhymed poetry forever after.

I wasn’t crazy about the format of the book, because it grouped poems about the sea together, and then poems about the woods together – and they began to all sound the same.

The poems I liked best were the poems that tell a story. Perhaps that’s because what L. M. Montgomery is good at is telling stories. The title poem, “The Watchman,” was about one of the soldiers guarding Jesus’ tomb when he was resurrected. Another poem, “If Mary Had Known,” told about the very bad and very good things her son would go through.

L. M. Montgomery likely suffered from bipolar disorder, so that gave a little extra light on “The Choice” – where she tells Life that she would rather “sound thy deeps and reach thy highest passion, With thy delight and with thy suffering rife” than have a boring life. “Wan peace, uncolored days, were a poor favor; To lack great pain and love were to lack savor.”

Another one I liked was “To My Enemy.” In it, she thanks not her friend, but her enemy for spurring her to do great things.

I had not scaled such weary heights
But that I held thy scorn in fear,
And never keenest lure might match
The subtle goading of thy sneer.

Thine anger struck from me a fire
That purged all dull content away,
Our mortal strife to me has been
Unflagging spur from day to day.

It’s possible that I will appreciate the poems about the woods and the sea more after I have actually visited Prince Edward Island. I think I’d better go find out!

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Alpine Path, by L. M. Montgomery

Monday, September 9th, 2019

The Alpine Path

The Story of My Career

by L. M. Montgomery

Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited, 1990. First published in 1917.

I’m visiting Prince Edward Island in a few weeks (Yay!), and as part of my preparation, I’m rereading L. M. Montgomery’s books in the order they were published, so this short book about how she got started writing was up next.

In the Preface, the purpose of the book is explained:

In 1917 the editor of Everywoman’s World, a magazine published in Toronto from 1911 until the 1920s, asked L. M. Montgomery to write the story of her career. What she produced was published in six instalments, June through November, under the title she chose, The Alpine Path. It came from a verse that had been her inspiration during the long years when success as a writer seemed remote and only dogged determination kept her on

The Alpine path, so hard, so steep,
That leads to heights sublime.

Now, I’ve read L. M. Montgomery’s Selected Journals and am currently reading her Complete Journals — so this little book doesn’t really contain any new information for me. Instead of focusing on just her writing career, Maud Montgomery writes a lot about her childhood. Though that part very much reflects how she came up with a child as imaginative as Anne and a child so in love with the natural beauty of Prince Edward Island – this is simply who she herself was.

She also finished up The Alpine Path by copying her journal entries from her honeymoon in Scotland. It’s not very pertinent to how she became a writer, and it feels like padding to make this long enough to be a book. Visiting Scotland is very interesting, yes, but doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the story of her career. This time through the book I enjoyed that section much more, since I got to visit Scotland in 2003 and have been to some of the same places.

Since I am now reading her books chronologically, I did notice in particular how much of this story of how she got started as a writer she later used in her book Emily Climbs, as her heroine Emily of New Moon works and struggles to become an author – just as Maud Montgomery did herself. In fact, some of these scenes are pulled exactly and used for Emily, emphasizing how autobiographical a character she is.

I was also reminded that Maud Montgomery did her apprenticeship writing short stories. Here she writes about how her first efforts were spurned. But she persisted and started getting published by magazines that paid her in copies. And she persisted still more until she actually got paid, and eventually made quite a sum with her pen, even before she published a book. So Anne of Green Gables didn’t come from nothing.

This book does remind me that L. M. Montgomery is in her element writing about characters in a small town and incidents and interactions that happen with them. She knows the foibles and quirks of human nature and can draw people to great effect with her pen.

It’s also interesting that her career had just begun when she wrote The Alpine Path. She had published the first three Anne books, Kilmeny of the Orchard, the two Story Girl books, a book of short stories, and a book of poems. She would go on to publish fifteen more books in her lifetime. So it’s no wonder that this book talks more about how she got her start than on what it was like to continue to build a career as an author. I do recommend reading her journals to find out more about that!

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Annotated Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery, edited by Wendy E. Barry, Margaret Anne Doody, and Mary E. Doody Jones

Monday, September 2nd, 2019

The Annotated
Anne of Green Gables

by L. M. Montgomery
edited by Wendy E. Barry, Margaret Anne Doody, and Mary E. Doody Jones

Oxford University Press, 1997. 496 pages.
Starred Review
Review written September 2, 2019, from my own copy.

This book is an obvious purchase for any L. M. Montgomery superfan like me. I ordered my own copy as soon as I learned of the book’s existence several years ago (though not as long ago as when it was first published in 1997). (Okay, it looks like now it’s out of print and expensive on Amazon. It’s worth looking for a used or library copy!)

I did not, however, get the book read very quickly. The content is marvelous and full of interesting tidbits, but the format is oversized. It’s a heavy book, not suitable for curling up with in bed, and not fitting easily into the books I pile up near my dining room table and read bits of daily. So I was making very slow progress.

However, this year I’m heading to Prince Edward Island with two dear friends – and that was enough for me to get motivated and finish reading this book. It’s also the perfect book to read for background on L. M. Montgomery and the book that made her famous.

The full text of Anne of Green Gables is included in this volume, but there’s a plethora of materials to go with it.

Yes, there are annotations with the notes written in the wide margins on the sides of the pages. We get insights on the books Anne refers to and notes on the sources of quotations used. We get definitions of words like “bush” (uncleared natural woodland) and “wincey.” (I once tried to use “wincey” in Scrabble because of Anne of Green Gables, but it wasn’t in a current dictionary.) We get explanations of household chores at the time like boiling the dishcloth before washing machines existed.

There are also an abundance of illustrations. Many are from early editions of Anne of Green Gables, but there are also photographs from L. M. Montgomery’s journals and other illustrations and photos from the time period.

The material at the front and back is particularly fascinating and helpful. There’s a Chronology of L. M. Montgomery’s life. I used it to update my list of her books in publication order, which I’d gotten from the internet and had a few small errors. There’s a short biography of Lucy Maud Montgomery and notes about her writing of Anne. There are even Textual Notes detailing when the manuscript differs from the first published edition or the English edition, which had some changes.

The Appendices have a wealth of material. And this is the part of the volume that I finished up recently – so they were perfect reading just before my upcoming trip. They include “The Geography of Anne of Green Gables,” and much information about the times – orphan care, education, gardening, home life, and the “concerts” where music and elocution were demonstrated. They also list the complete text of many songs, literary works, and recitation pieces that are mentioned. And at the end are book reviews that came out when Anne was first published.

This book is for the adult Anne aficionado. I, for one, found many surprises – things I’d glossed over, thinking I knew what they meant – but now I have a more complete picture. This was so much fun to read – especially in anticipation of visiting the Green Gables Museum in a few weeks!

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Measure for Measure, edited by Annie Finch and Alexandra Oliver

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2019

Measure for Measure

An Anthology of Poetic Meters

edited by Annie Finch and Alexandra Oliver

Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2015. 256 pages.

Measure for Measure is like a college course on poetic meter. You learn about the different metric forms and then hear examples.like a college course on poetic meter. You learn about the different metric forms and then experience them.

The book explains various types of poetic meter – and then is filled with examples. This is a book that should be read aloud! There’s a nice selection of classic poems I’d heard before combined with more modern ones.

My one little complaint was that many examples were only excerpts from longer works, and I would have preferred the complete poem in most cases. But I have to say that this did keep the book short and manageable. The Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets come in a compact size, easily carried about, with a ribbon bookmark.

My method was to read aloud the poems on one double-page spread each morning. Hearing the poems, I quickly got a feel for the different meters.

Reading the names of the sections, you’ll understand that this book will teach you about new poetic forms. We’ve got: Accentual Poems, Trochaic Poems, Anapestic Poems, Dactylic Poems, Iambic Poems, Poems in Ballad Meter and Fourteeners, Amphibrachic Poems, Dipodic Poems, Poems in Sapphics and Alcaics, and Poems in Hendecasyllabics, Cretics, and Lesser Ionics.

This charming little book is both instructive and entertaining. And a must-read for aspiring poets.

randomhouse.com/everymans
everymanslibrary.co.uk

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Knitting Pearls, edited by Ann Hood

Friday, November 9th, 2018

Knitting Pearls

Writers Writing About Knitting

edited by Ann Hood

W. W. Norton & Company, 2016. 260 pages.

This is a book of essays about knitting, and the essays are written by twenty-seven distinguished writers. Not all of the writers are knitters, but all of the writers do have something interesting to say about knitting. Maybe they had a relative who knitted for them. Maybe there’s a particular knitted object that starts their musings.

I took a long time to read this book. But that’s the beauty of essays – you can read one at a time and come away smiling. Or just musing about life.

Here’s a paragraph from the introduction, with the editor telling us what to expect. (There are several more paragraphs, so this is just a taste.)

And speaking of swooning, here’s what you have to look forward to when you read Knitting Pearls. Like me, some of the contributors knit their way through adversity. Caroline Leavitt’s first husband asked her to make him a sweater with brontosauruses on it, but as she knit the marriage began to crumble. Lily King’s daughter knit a hat during their year living in Italy, which eased her homesickness. Cynthia Chinelly knits to help her escape the worry she has for her son. Melissa Coleman hoped that knitting a sweater for everyone in her family would remove the curse of divorce. An on-again, off-again knitter, Robin Romm returned to it when her mother was dying, and now knits as she waits for a baby. Back at Ithaca College in the 1970s, Bill Roorbach joined the knitting club to get over his broken heart – and to meet girls.

If you love knitting, you’re going to enjoy this book.

wwnorton.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Steal Like an Artist, by Austin Kleon

Friday, November 2nd, 2018

Steal Like an Artist

10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative

by Austin Kleon

Workman Publishing Company, 2012. 152 pages.

This is a little book of excellent suggestions for young adults who want to pursue creative work. I say young adults, because as an adult who’s more set in my ways, I’ve already developed my own versions of some of these suggestions, like “Get yourself a calendar,” “Keep a log book,” and “Keep your day job.” (And those are all under the Ninth Thing: “Be Boring. (It’s the only way to get work done.”)

I do love the title Thing: “Steal like an artist.” Here are some good lines from the section explaining it:

What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original.

If we’re free from the burden of trying to be completely original, we can stop trying to make something out of nothing, and we can embrace influence instead of running away from it.

The artist is a collector. Not a hoarder, mind you, there’s a difference: Hoarders collect indiscriminately, artists collect selectively. They only collect things that they really love.

As much as I love collecting quotations and writing book reviews, it’s not a surprise I love this idea.

Of course, this was my favorite bit:

Always be reading. Go to the library. There’s magic in being surrounded by books. Get lost in the stacks. Read bibliographies. It’s not the book you start with, it’s the book that book leads you to.

Collect books, even if you don’t plan on reading them right away. Nothing is more important than an unread library.

Partly why I say this is for young adults is Thing Two: “Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started.” It’s still good advice at age 53, but I have more of an idea than I did in my twenties.

The format of the book is such that it’s a great book to pull out and read a bit each morning to start your day with some inspiration. I tend to get such books read much more quickly than books that need a significant stretch of time in order to absorb them.

There are lots more good ideas for being creative for people of any age and place in their journey. I will probably give this book to my young adult children, who each have a creative side. And I’m storing away some of the advice to appropriate into my own life.

austinkleon.com
workman.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Niko Draws a Feeling, by Bob Raczka, illustrations by Simone Shin

Friday, July 13th, 2018

Niko Draws a Feeling

by Bob Raczka
illustrations by Simone Shin

Carolrhoda Books, 2017. 36 pages.
Review written in 2017

Niko likes to draw feelings.

When Niko was inspired,
it felt like a window
opening in his brain.

An idea would flit through the
open window like a butterfly,
flutter down to his stomach,

then along his arm and fingers to his pencils,
where it would escape onto his paper in a whirlwind of color.

No one understands Niko’s drawings and what they mean. If he draws the hard work of a mother robin building her nest, they expect to see a bird or a nest – not hard work. If he draws the warm of the sun on his face, they expect to see the sun or his face, not the warm.

His friends don’t understand. His parents don’t understand. His teacher doesn’t understand.

But then a girl named Iris moves next door, and she gets it. When she looks at Niko’s drawings, she feels something.

The next thing Niko draws is the feeling of friendship.

I didn’t expect to like this book as much as I did. Honestly, I’m still a little skeptical about drawing feelings. And a little skeptical that this new girl could catch on so well.

But – there’s something about that feeling when somebody finally gets you. This book delivered that feeling and warmed my heart.

lernerbooks.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of What’s Your Favorite Color? by Eric Carle and Friends

Wednesday, June 13th, 2018

What’s Your Favorite Color?

by Eric Carle and Friends

Godwin Books (Henry Holt and Company), 2017. 36 pages.

This is another book in support of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, like What’s Your Favorite Animal?. Here again, a set of distinguished illustrators are asked a simple question – and they all answer in their own unique way.

This time the question is “What’s your favorite color?”

Some artists give long and thoughtful answers, like Rafael López:

The color I choose will surprise you because it dares to be different. No matter what others may say, artists know that gray is magic. It gets along with all the other colors and knows how to make them sparkle. Gray is smart and UNIQUE!

Like the clever octopus, my good friend gray knows how to change colors to communicate. It comes in many different shades – from warm to really cool! In some parts of the world, this flexible color even changes its spelling to grey.

When things get noisy and mixed up, gray is like a calm, deep breath.

Other artists, like Mike Curato, are short and sweet:

My favorite color is Mint because I love mint chocolate chip ice cream.

Or Lauren Castillo:

I love the way the snow magically paints the world white.

Or Frann Preston-Gannon:

I love flaming orange. It is the color of the tiger burning bright as it creeps through the grasses of the jungle.

This isn’t a book for preschool storytime, but it is a book for thoughtful reading over and over again. It’s for looking at things differently. It’s for thinking about your own favorite color. And it’s for enjoying the glorious paintings.

I’m not sure why they chose the order they did of the illustrators, except the obvious choice of putting Eric Carle first. The colors aren’t in the order of the rainbow, and a few colors are almost the same. (For example, Melissa Sweet chooses Maine Morning Gray.) At the back, there’s a bit about each illustrator, and the names are in a colored font. I find myself wishing they had used each illustrator’s favorite color for their name, but they didn’t.

All the same, this is a lovely book. It would be perfect for sharing with a budding artist to get them thinking about and seeing colors with fresh eyes.

What do I mean by seeing colors with fresh eyes? Well, Philip C. Stead’s page is a fine example (though the illustration is what makes it perfect):

A green frog is green
and sometimes socks are green –
just like yarn.
An alligator is green
unless it hides underwater
and then it’s
two white eyes.
Green grass is green
and apples can be green.
A tree is green
except when it’s yellow
red
or nothing at all.
You know what?
A green elephant is green
when it wants to be
and that’s why today
my favorite color
is green.

carlemuseum.org
mackids.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Ada’s Violin, by Susan Hood and Sally Wern Comport

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

adas_violin_largeAda’s Violin

The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay

by Susan Hood
illustrated by Sally Wern Comport

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, New York, 2016. 40 pages.
Starred Review

This picture book tells the story of Ada Rios, who grew up living in the main garbage dump of Asuncion, the capital city of Paraguay. Her family worked in the landfill as a recycler, finding trash they could sell.

One day Favio Chavez came to town, offering music lessons for the children of the town, Cateura. There weren’t enough musical instruments to go around — so they made instruments out of recycled materials they found in the landfill.

They formed an orchestra, and Ada practiced hard. They performed concerts and ended up being able to travel around the world, even performing at a Metallica concert.

The picture book tells the story simply enough for children. Material at the back fills in the details for adults, complete with YouTube links.

Music and creativity combined with time and dedication brought music and new life to the children of Cateura.

The last paragraphs of the Author’s Note at the back is filled with hope:

Money from the orchestra’s concerts goes back to Cateura to help families rebuild their homes, their music school, and their lives. “Not too long ago we purchased a piece of land where we will build houses for fifteen orchestra families,” said Chavez. “Ada has a new house there.” This land is out of the flood zone. These families will never again have to face the evacuations that displace Cateura villagers every year when the river rises.

What started as a music class for ten kids has swelled to orchestral rehearsals for two hundred students, with more than twenty-five instructors. Chavez quit his ecology job to work with the orchestra full-time. Now plans are afoot to use the Recycled Orchestra’s experiences as a model to help other children living on landfills around the world.

recycledorchestracateura.com
susanhoodbooks.com
sallycomport.com
simonandschuster.com/kids

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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