Sunday, August 12, 2007

library theme: animals making music

We got to the library just 15 minutes before closing time a little over a week ago. I needed to return a book but didn't intend to check out any since I didn't have my list and Eliza hadn't given any topic suggestions - I thought perhaps we'd head to the armchairs to read until closing, then go see the ducks at the adjacent pond. Eliza had other ideas.

The catalog computers with their tall stools caught her attention yet again. Instead of standing around tapping my foot impatiently, I nosed through the picture book shelves just a few feet away. Olivia Forms a Band caught my eye - I'd been meaning to check it out sometime since Eliza is fond of Olivia (maybe it's a fellow diva thing). 10 minutes until closing. I did a quick scan of the shelves to find another book about music, so marked by the librarian with an eighth note spine sticker. Rock 'n' Roll Dogs and The Song of Six Birds jumped out at me. That's when I thought maybe I could make a quick theme of animals playing music. I knew I had a few books at home that would fit.

The next morning, Eliza noticed the library picture books on the coffee table. "I see Olivia!!" she squealed. I had a feeling she, being an animal and music lover, would enjoy the books, and was I ever right. We've read each of the six library books at least twice a day for the past ten days. And considering I didn't have time to preview them at the library, they were a decent bunch.

Olivia Forms a Band (2006), Ian Falconer

Olivia the porcine diva is dreaming big again. When her mother announces that the family is going to see fireworks that evening, Olivia insists that fireworks without a band is just not kosher. Recruiting her family is met with worried here-we-go-again looks, but Olivia is not deterred. My favorite line from Olivia comes after Olivia's mother tells her a band has to sound like more than one person: "This morning you told me I sounded like five people!" (Echoing similar refrains in our house.)

Eliza's favorite page was the one with the fireworks (['faɪəʃʊks] in Eliza's idiolect), which she still remembers from the 4th of July.

One thing that pleased me was to see Olivia being considerate of her siblings in piecing together her one-pig band (although she appears to snatch her father's suspenders without asking), giving them something they want in exchange for their toy musical instruments.

As with the other Olivia books, Falconer's palette is spare black-and-white, punctuated with splashes of red and blue. The expressions on his characters' faces are so masterful that they tell at least as much of the story as does the prose.

A couple quibbles I have are the ever-present baby bottle (with no adult nearby) and the non-sequitur final page with its depiction of what Olivia's dreaming (I suspect it was put there to give adults a chuckle as I can't imagine the vast majority of the book's target audience would recognize it - Eliza wanted to know who those people were), but overall I found it as charming as Eliza did.

Froggy Plays in the Band (2002), Jonathan London (written), Frank Remkiewicz (illustrated)

I saw on LibraryThing that there are quite a few "Froggy" books written by London. Last summer, we checked out a book about Froggy learning to swim. I tend to be leery of repeating characters in picture books (Olivia notwithstanding) because the stories tend to be uninspired more often than not, and this book did not buck the trend.

Froggy decides to enter a marching band contest that advertises a big prize, so he gathers together his friends into a ragtag marching band. The outcome is not terribly important, but the messages are conflicting. I'm a bit troubled by the emphasis on competition - that Froggy decides to learn the saxophone (['fæfəfoʊn] to Eliza) not for its own sake but to win a contest. On a positive note, Froggy shows determination in practicing day and night and in not allowing an accident during the parade to derail him. I just wish the ol' boy could be more internally motivated.

Who Bop? (2000), Jonathan London (written), Henry Cole (illustrated)

There's a sock hop tonight and the animals are coming two by two to dance to the jazzy rock 'n' roll band headed by Jazz-Bo, the saxophone-playing cat. There's not really a story here - it's a bubblegum 50's ditty as picture book - but the font and lyrics swing along with the animals making it a pleasant enough read although it doesn't stand up to repeat readings for adults. The dust jacket blurb pegs it for ages 3-6, but I had it pegged for 1½-4.

Rock 'n' Roll Dogs (2006), David Davis (written), Chuck Galey (illustrated)

Memphis has gone to the dogs. Although there are similarities to Jonathan London's Who Bop?, Rock 'n' Roll Dogs is more sophisticated and less glib. Dig this:

It's close to Graceland, down in Memphis town,
And the dogcatcher lady wants to shut 'em down.
But on Friday nights they dig a hot dog band
That rocks that boogie in the Delta land.
You're all welcome on their front doormat.
Kids can visit - but they don't let cats
Come hear Rock 'n' Roll
Memphis Blues Dogs.

If a tomcat tries to crash the show,
The dogs start barking, "Go, cat, Go!"
The rhymed couplets are catchy without being overdone. Eliza grooves whenever I read it.

I see from the dust jacket that the writer and illustrator also teamed up for Jazz Cats, which I intend to search out. We are cat people, after all. (Ages 3-6)

Punk Farm (2005), Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Punk Farm answers the age-old question of what farm animals do when the farmer's away. No, Snowball and Napoleon don't stage a revolution in this story - the pig in Punk Farm has better things to do: amping up his electric guitar and wailing out a punk rock rendition of "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" along with sheep on vocals, chicken on keyboard, goat on bass, and cow on drums.

Eliza thought it was good fun. This isn't the sort of book you can read in a meek voice, and my throat was a little sore after each reading (I'm so not punk). The writing isn't particularly inspired - it's the reader's "performance" and illustrations that carry this one. (Ages 1½-4)

The Song of Six Birds (1999), Rene Deetlefs (written), Lyn Gilbert (illustrated)

This is my favorite from the animals making music theme, although unlike the other books, there are no anthropomorphic animals playing instruments. The South African authors have set the story in a tiny, close-knit village where young Lindiwe wakes up one morning to find by her side an African flute, a gift from her mother. Lindiwe is grateful for the gift, but the first notes she plays frighten her baby brother. She is disappointed but is determined to find beautiful sounds to fill her flute.

As Lindiwe moves through the day, she comes upon birds and sweetly asks them to share their musical calls with her flute, always expressing her thanks. My favorite part was when the medicine man helped to heal Lindiwe after a hornet stung her and she was afraid the flute might absorb her sobs:

The wise old man smiled, laying a
cool herb leaf on her throbbing arm.
"But a flute should sometimes sob,"
he said. "Ask that hoopoe."
The book closes with the village, young and old, bird and human, dancing late into the night to Lindiwe's flute. (Side note: Lindiwe's mother is shown wearing her baby boy on her back - it's a nice surprise to see babywearing in a picture book!)


Update: I just posted a mini review of Punk Farm. And I forgot to include the link to my "animals making music" tag on LibraryThing; we didn't read them this week, but a few books we own would fit the theme: Opera Cat, Berlioz the Bear, Animal Orchestra, and Mole Music.


Jenny said...

Those look really good. I've been trying to think of a way to teach CJ about the names of different musical instruments, and these might be just the ticket.

chanale said...

If you haven't already checked it out, Zin Zin Zin a Violin is a must-read. Eliza is pretty good at naming many musical instruments whether hearing them on a CD or seeing them in a picture book, but certain pairs (cello/double bass, clarinet/oboe, etc.) she confuses, understandably. The only instruments (besides the simple rhythm instruments from music class) she sees in person on a regular basis are keyboards, drums, and guitars.

I forgot to include the link to the tag I made on LT for "animals playing music," which includes a few more than I've listed here. I like Berlioz the Bear by Jan Brett and Mole Music.

Kate in NJ said...

Ooh, Zin Zin Violin was a fave at our house for a while too.
We have read a couple of these, and I will check out the others.
My P loves music and animals.

nina said...

I bookmarked the Olivia book to order. I'm not fond of the books for children but do like the adult elements. Your description of the last page has me interested.

I add my resounding agreement for reading Zin Zin Zin. Citcat loves it.

Two others that came to mind

Piggies in a Polka and Cha Cha Chimps. We absolutely loved Cha Cha Chimps.

Great post. I love reading about your themes. I should do a little more of that sort of planning.