Nonfiction Monday: Mozart, The Wonder Child

Mozart is a perfect candidate for a picture book biography, and Diane Stanley's Mozart:  The Wonder Child, A Puppet Play in Three Acts (HarperCollins, 2009) is, in my view, a perfect example of one: informative and engaging text, well-chosen detail, lots of back matter, and--this is important--beautiful design.

Stanley, who has written and illustrated eleven other picture book biographies, is past master at this art.  She was inspired to present Mozart's life as a puppet play by the Salzburg Marionette Theatre (thus the strings).  I'm not convinced that this is a puppet play, although I like the three-act structure of the text; the art (minus the strings) is, however, exquisite, and of course everyone is lavishly dressed.  I particularly like the handwritten musical staffs that correspond to what Mozart is composing on a given page; and the way the footnotes, which are designated by quarter and eighth notes, are presented on scrolls by little cherubs.

With younger children, read Play, Mozart, Play (a play on words) by Peter Sis (Greenwillow, 2006).  For older children, pair this with Mozart: The Boy Who Changed the World With His Music (with reproductions of portraits and other paintings, and photos of places) by Marcus Weeks (National Geographic, 2007).

Most important, listen--or play!--some of Mozart's music.  After reading this together, Leo asked if he could learn to play something by Mozart on his violin, and was surprised to learn that Mozart had composed (variations on) his very first piece:  Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.  Maybe you know it?

Menotti's The Unicorn and two other creatures

The kids and I saw the Bowen McCauley Dance performance of Gian Carlo Menotti's "The Unicorn, The Gorgon and the Manticore" this afternoon. Some of the dancers, notably the Mystery Man and the Unicorn, visited Milly's preschool a few weeks ago, and she insisted that we buy tickets to the performance. It was fantastic! I wasn't familiar with the libretto (the only Menotti I know is "Amahl and the Night Visitors"), but it's a fable about art and envy that, on at least some levels, children can understand. And they loved the animals.

Afterwards, Lucy Bowen McCauley, the artistic director, invited the children in the audience to come onstage, and she and the dancers taught them the characteristic movements of each animal and how they corresponded to the music. Nothing against the Gorgon and the Manticore, but the Unicorn was Milly's favorite. Highly recommended for young dancers.

[Aside: Milly is interested in unicorns, and I've been looking for books about them to share with her, with limited success. Can you recommend any unicorn books for younger readers and listeners? Team Unicorn people, I'm looking at you.]

Nonfiction Monday: Note by Note

If you took piano lessons as a child, or if you have a child who is taking them now, then you'll want to read Note by Note: A Celebration of the Piano Lesson by Tricia Tunstall (Simon and Schuster, 2008).  I like Tunstall's description of music lessons:  "weekly session[s] alone together, physically proximate, concentrating on the transfer of a skill that is complicated and difficult, often frustrating and frequently tedious, but that every now and then open suddenly and without warning into joy" (3).  And the chapter on recitals is particularly, sometimes painfully, well-observed.

Recommended at Read Roger (see the comments for what readers remember from past piano lessons; Spinning Song, anyone?).  I only wish there were something comparable for violin lessons--that's what Leo takes.  Although Little Rat Makes Music by Monika Bang-Campbell (illustrated by Molly Bang; Harcourt, 2007) comes close, from a child's perspective.  So that's what elementary violin playing looks like!

A Year with Frog and Toad

The kids and I went to our community children's theater production of A Year with Frog and Toad this afternoon.  We adore the Frog and Toad series of early readers, written and illustrated by Arnold Lobel.  Before the show there was a lot of speculation about which of the Frog and Toad stories we would be seeing; I'm pleased to report that many of our favorites (Spring; The Letter; The Garden; Cookies; The Surprise) made it in.  The kids' favorite number was probably "Cookies," which came on just before the intermission.  Coincidentally, I had packed a snack of cookies (no milk) which we ate right afterward.  Thus fortified, we happily watched the second act of the show (in which Snail finally delivers the letter Frog sent to Toad in the first act).  We liked it!  Not as much as the books (of course), but enough to consider buying the soundtrack.

[Favorite Frog and Toad stories which did not make it into A Year With Frog and Toad:  A Lost Button and A List.  What are your favorites?]