Monday, October 10, 2016

Fall Reading 2016 The Music in George's Head


I love all the wonderful picture book biographies that are being created now, and I really wish they had been around when I was a child. (Does anyone else remember reading those Childhood of Famous Americans books?) Suzanne Slade's new book on George Gershwin is captivating in its presentation of how Gershwin grew up to become one of America's most famous songwriters. And Stacy Innerst's illustrations take the coloring from George's "Rhapsody in Blue" and use it as a signature palette throughout the book.

Key events from George's life are shared with the reader, things like his fascination with "Melody in F" after he heard it at a nearby penny arcade, or the way he taught himself to play the piano by copying the movement of the keys on a player piano at a friend's house. Many of the illustrations show Gershwin either playing an instrument, or thinking up a song with musical notes dancing around him. I especially like the double-page spread that shows the influences he included in his "Rhapsody in Blue." Slade describes the concerto as a "musical kaleidoscope of America's melting pot." Innerst has pictured New York in the background, along with a jack hammer, a train, Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith, a clarinet player in Orthodox Jewish clothing, and a couple dancing. Tying the figures together is a stream of musical notes coming from George's piano keys and sheet music blowing from his piano and then twisting and floating through the other scenes. It truly captures the feel of how everything he experienced became an influence on his work.

The word choices also carry a lot of the weight in conveying the story clearly. When the text states that "A clarinet fluttered softly, like butterfly wings on a morning breeze," or that the song was "daring, and razzmatazz dazzling" readers can imagine how those first audiences reacted to his music. Young readers will enjoy the way that the story comes full circle. It begins with "George heard music all the time" and ends with "He'd been hearing beautiful music all his life." The Author's Note, Illustrator's Note, timeline, and bibliography all give added details to support the story.

Highly recommended for school libraries (particularly elementary), and for music teachers who enjoy sharing biographies of famous composers and performers with their classes.

I received a copy from the publisher for review purposes.

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