Friday, January 19, 2007


"A thousand years ago, if you heard a song and wanted to hear it again, you would have to remember it by heart. If you forgot the song, it could be lost forever. A thousand years ago, no one could write down even a single note of music. There were no notes. there were no staffs, no clefs, no sharps, no flats. there was no writen music at all." Luckily, a thousand years ago, there was also Guido d'Arezzo, a music-loving monk who was resilient in his efforts to create a musical language, despite resistance from choirmasters who felt his efforts might put a tidy end to their jobs. Through persistence and the support of a few good friends, Guido was able to reach his epiphany and give his gift to the world...a gift that touches us every day, every time we hear music on the radio, in an elevator, on a commercial, on a favorite CD. OF course, why wouldn't we want every child to know the biography of someone whose impact on the arts is so far-reaching? It's hard to find a picture book that can be read to a wide range of age levels, or one that so tidily integrates both the arts and character education, but this book accomplishes both. Susan Roth's highly textured handmade paper collage illustrations are interesting, if not altogether effective (one illustration of a line of angry monks in white hoods brought something else to mind altogether). Still, Roth is always one to take chances, with a unique creative energy that is sure to influence other artists, young and old. My favorite of her many projects remains LEON'S STORY, written in conjunction with Leon Walter Tillage, a school custodial engineer who shares his recollections of post-reconstruction and civil rights (wow, some truly amazing sections to read-aloud and a must-have for any month, but certainly black history month, for ages 9 and up). Susan Roth's titles are ones that I always find both useful and joyful, and this latest tribute continues to hit a high note. (6 and up)

Also of interest:
BROTHER JUNIPER by Diane Gibfried, illustrated by Meilo So (Clarion) A monk is so wildly generous, he manages to give away the shirt off of his back (literally), and the contents of an entire church. Though his brother friars are furious to return home to nothing but the church's foundation, it turns out that one good deed deserves another, and another, and yet another. A touching parable for any faith. (5 and up)

SEQUOYAH: THE CHEROKEE MAN WHO GAVE HIS PEOPLE WRITING by James Rumsford (Houghton Mifflin) The mighty trees that bear the name Sequoyah are tall and strong, but the Cherokee man, a disabled metalworker in the early 19th century, dreamed of standing with equal authority among his people. He tried to contribute to his tribe by developing a language so that their words of would not disappear with the coming of the white man. He drew hundreds of signs to create a language, but superstitious people were afraid of his symbols, and burned his cabin down with all his work inside. This only inspired Sequoyah to create a shortcut: an alphabet. Look inside this book to see the language that he created, as well as bold and beautiful woodcuts. The writing comes around in full circle like the seed to a tree to a seed again. Well-researched and compelling, this is an outstanding contribution to the genre of children's picture book biography, as well as an inspiring tribute to both the power of the word and the genius of a man. Read this along with Susan Roth's DO, RE, MI, and have children try to invent their own language to fill a void where communication is needed! (7 and up)

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