Music, Musings Fill Children's Books

By Basbanes, Nicholas A. | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, January 21, 2007 | Go to article overview

Music, Musings Fill Children's Books


Basbanes, Nicholas A., Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Music in multiple guises -- bluegrass, classical, jazz, even barnyard yodeling -- provides sufficient premise for several literary choices this month, all rendered with a bit of whimsy and good cheer. Another favorite topic -- dreamland -- comes in for a bit of examination, as well.

"The 39 Apartments of Ludwig van Beethoven," story by Jonah Winter; illustrations by Barry Blitt; Schwartz Wade Books, $15.95, 40 pages, ages 4 -9

Jonah Winter begins this "mockumentary" about the career of the great composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) with a couple of recorded facts, and then lets his sense of humor run free. Fact: Beethoven is known to have lived in no fewer than 39 apartments in Vienna as an adult, and he is known to have owned several legless pianos. So why did he move so often? And how did he move his pianos from place to place?

The maestro's personal behavior was curious as well: He growled and howled at those who annoyed him, and poured water on his head while composing. And his worsening deafness -- yes, he wrote the Ninth Symphony without ever actually hearing it -- caused him to make a racket.

Clearly, there are numerous possibilities here for a writer with a playful streak to exploit, and speculation runs wild. Barry Blitt's illustrations are delightfully wry and down to earth.

"Banjo Granny," story by Sarah Martin Busse and Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrations by Barry Root; Houghton Mifflin, $16, 32 pages ages 4-8

A banjo-toting grandmother in sneakers heads out by foot across the countryside, determined to cross a river, a mountain and a desert to a reunion a thousand miles away with Owen, a happy child with a yen for good American music. Actually, this "grandbaby" has more than a yen; indeed, "he was a baby who went wiggly, jiggly, all- around giggly, and tip over tumble for bluegrass music."

The odyssey is long and arduous, but in the end uncomplicated, and a foot-tapping treat for one and all. Jacqueline Martin and Sarah Busse, a mother-daughter team, have cooked up a celebratory romp with rhyming text that has the lively bounce of good music; Barry Root's mixed-media illustrations are filled with sunshine and joy.

"The King's Chorus," story by Linda Hayward, illustrations by Jennifer P. Goldfinger; Clarion Books, $16, 32 pages, ages 4-8

Kadoodle the rooster has a problem that might be described as the "I love me syndrome." He lives in a community -- a barnyard, really - - where he believes that he is pretty much king of the world. More night-owl than farm fowl, he crows and croons into the wee hours, driving everyone else crazy. Nayton the horse is so sleep-deprived he can't pull the wagon; Moozie the cow is too exhausted to give milk. Even Farmer Bales is upset, threatening the clueless monarch with a one-way trip to the soup pot if he doesn't shape up.

When all seems lost, an even-tempered goose named Honketta comes forward to tell Kadoodle a thought-provoking story about a "king's chorus" of roosters whose global mission is to greet the dawn, not keep everyone awake all night. There is wisdom in these words, and the triumphant call -- cockadooledoooooo! -- announces the arrival of a bright new day. Jennifer Goldfinger's animals are nicely characterized.

"This Jazz Man," story by Karen Ehrhardt, illustrations by R.G. Roth; Harcourt, $16, 32 pages, ages 3-7

First-time author Karen Ehrhardt celebrates the majesty of American jazz in a tribute that cleverly doubles as a counting book. …

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