Once Upon a Rhythm

Once Upon a Rhythm
James Carter and Valerio Vidali
Caterpillar Books

In this booming, stomping, chanting, magical look at music and its origins, poet James Carter engages not just our ears and eyes but our voices, our limbs, our hearts, and indeed our whole bodies, as we follow his lead that takes us back to the rhythmic sounds of tools on stone, to the chants of Africa,

to the songs of communities, to the voices of different instruments be they blown, plucked, shaken, banged, bowed or stroked.

First came the making of music and then came the notation – the lines and signs – indicating the pitch and the rhythm, enabling us to preserve it and pass it on through time and space.

We celebrate the emergence of new forms and styles,

new places to ramp up the sound and most of all, the notion that music is for everyone and each of us has the capacity to make music of one kind or another.

He concludes with an acrostic RHYTHM invitation to ‘Listen to life’s music’.

This latest of James Carter’s non-fiction poetic writing has Italian illustrator Valerio Vidali’s arresting artwork to complement it. His music makers appear to have picked up the rhythm of Carter’s poetry making it all the more vivid and powerful.

A smashing celebration of the art of music.

The Academy of Barmy Composers: Baroque

The Academy of Barmy Composers: Baroque
Mark Llewelyn Evans, illustrated by Karl Davies
Graffeg

The author of this book, professional opera singer Mark Llewelyn Evans, is the founder and creative director of ABC of Opera Productions, a company that tours the UK introducing children to the stories and glories of the opera through music and storytelling.
His enthusiasm shines through this, his debut children’s book, the first in The Academy of Barmy Composers series. Herein readers follow the fabulous story of best friends Megan and Jack who climb over the gate of Pontirgorffenol village music hall, (long since fallen into disuse and said by some to contain treasure), and discover Trunk. They’re amazed to learn that this Trunk into which they’d both fallen is able to talk – in 43 languages what’s more.

Thus begins an awesome adventure with Trunk, taking them back to 1597 to the country of its origin – ‘shaped like a boot’ – and there to discover ”The ABC of Opera” and the Academy of Barmy Composers.

After something of a crash landing in Florence, Megan and Jack find themselves face-to-face with golden-haired Professor Peri,(aka Golden Locks) inventor of Opera who leads them into the academy hall; there to meet the ‘Baa-rockers’ – Florence’s cool “arty fartys” as the composers introduce themselves.

There is so much to discover but the prof. is a passionate teacher

and the children avid listeners who cannot help but be swept up in the crazy but enormously exciting learning experience,

which ends all too soon.

And so it will be I have no doubt, with child readers who are lucky enough to get their hands on this exuberantly presented, thoroughly engaging book. I love the characters, Karl Davies’ zany illustrations are a joy, and there are concluding spreads giving information on instruments of the time, voice types and the composers. If the whole experience doesn’t leave youngsters eager to experience baroque music, especially opera, then nothing will.
Bring on the next musical adventure.

Hello, Mister Cold

Hello, Mister Cold
Carles Porta
Flying Eye Books

The opening paragraph from The second in the Tales from the Hidden Valley sequence repeats that used in the first book before plunging readers into deepest winter. This one however starts not in the winter-engulfed valley but in a distant town.
Enter one Maximillan Cold, ‘child of the richest, most ambitious, coldest family in town.’ To his family’s shock horror, the lad wants to be a musician and so the family disowns the boy trumpeter who joins a band.
Its leader however doesn’t appreciate his TINC-BLIN-TUT improvisations and so fires him instantly.

Maxi boards a train but is soon ejected by some travelling musicians and thereafter lost, he finds shelter in a cave, the floor of which gives way sending him cascading down between precious stones and fossils.
The chilly world in which he finds himself is that inhabited by Yula, just off for her music practice with Sara, and the other assorted characters we met in The Artists.

It’s the tiny, onion-headed ballerina who finds Maximillan lying flat out in the snow. Concerned at his inappropriate garb she opens his suitcase and dresses him in swathes of clothes, making him look like a ‘giant’ Thing.

This Thing accidentally alarms the hurrying Sara, causing her to start and fall down in a faint.

Concerned, Maxi resolves to find a safe place to take her and thus allows himself to be led to a dead tree wherein he deposits her and wraps her up warmly. Meanwhile, a watching raven, alarmed by seeing the little wolf carried away, flies off to inform Sara, thereby starting a rumour that Yula has been kidnapped by a monster.

Sara and her friends then devise a decidedly crazy plan with the intention of hounding out monster Maxi.

After another monster encounter – not Maxi but a totally weird giant worm thing that he himself comes upon, some magical music, the unpacking of Maxi’s suitcase, a realisation on the trumpeter’s part and a further musical rendition,

all ends happily and readers are left to draw the satisfying conclusion that a new friend has been added to the residents of Hidden Valley just in time for the arrival of spring …

Delectably droll narrative drives the plot, which, together with Portas’s quirky portrayal of the fanciful friends in a wonderful mix of scenes large and small, makes for another enormously engaging Hidden Valley flight of fancy. Roll on Book 3.

These stories surely have the makings of a wonderful children’s TV series.

The Bear, the Piano, the Dog and the Fiddle

The Bear, the Piano, the Dog and the Fiddle
David Litchfield
Lincoln Children’s Books

In a glorious sequel to the  The Bear and the Piano, David Litchfield introduces two new characters, busker Hector and his best pal Hugo.

When we first meet the two, life is no longer what it used to be; Hector’s act is, so he says, “yesterday’s news” partly on account of that world-renowned piano-playing bear. The violinist decides it’s time to call it a day and pack away his fiddle not just for the night, but forever.

Now he spends much of his time watching TV, listening to music and sleeping – lots of sleeping.

Hector’s neighbours were prone to be noisy so the old man would keep his windows closed at night; but one night he forgets and his sleep is disturbed by an unusual sound. Out of bed he gets and following the sound, steps out onto his roof to discover …

Hector decides to pass on his wealth of musical know-how to Hugo and soon crowds gather to hear the fiddle-playing dog.
Then one day an extremely famous ursine pianist joins the watchers. He is eager to sign Hugo up for his new band and go on tour.

He gets Hector’s reluctant backing until it’s time for the dog to depart. Then however, jealous feelings strike and the old man says some unkind words. Words he quickly regrets but by then; it’s too late …

Time passes, Hugo’s tour is a sell-out success wherever they play and he’s the star of the show, being accompanied by some amazing animals – Bear on piano, Big G on drums and groovy Clint ‘The Wolfman’ Jones on double bass.

Hector watches them play on his TV and greatly misses not only playing the fiddle himself, but particularly his now famous pal.

Months later, the show comes to perform in his city; but what will Hugo think if his erstwhile best friend is in the audience?

As Hector sits spellbound by the awesome music, he’s suddenly seized by security guards. Is he to be thrown out?

What happens next will make your heart leap with joy: suffice it to say, it’s a maestro performance all round, for as the author so rightly says, there are two things that last a lifetime – good music and good friendship.

Like its predecessor, this story is brilliantly orchestrated throughout. Pitch-perfect, it reads aloud like a dream, is filled with poignant moments; it’s gloriously illustrated with spreads and vignettes that really make for pulse racing and pulse slowing moments of delight and poignancy.

Another show-stopping performance, not only from the musicians, but also from their creator, David Litchfield.

The Best Sound in the World

The Best Sound in the World
Cindy Wume
Lincoln Children’s Books

Most of us have a favourite sound, or perhaps several we really like. I love the sweet notes of a song thrush in the early morning; a cascading waterfall and the voice of Roberta Flack, to name just three.

For Roy, the little city dwelling lion in this enchanting picture book, music is his very favourite thing.

Being an urban dweller, Roy is surrounded by sound, particularly that of neighbour Jemmy lemur, another lover of music although Roy who has aspirations to become a great violinist merely regards his musical efforts as agitating.
So he sets out in search of beautiful sounds and those that please him, he puts into small bottles to take home. However, none of them seems to be beautiful enough when he plays them on his violin and those Jemmy offers are totally rejected.

Roy boards a train to go further afield seeking the most beautiful sound the world has to offer. (Observant readers/listeners will notice that someone else is also making the journey.) The rain in the forest yields ‘plip-plops’;

birds flying in the high mountain provide ‘twitter-tweets’ and the desert whistling wind gives him ‘woooos’. To these he adds tidal waves sounds and the chit-chat of the souk.

His confusion deepens with each new sound: which is THE most beautiful of all?

To add to this muddle in his head, Roy is struck by loneliness: it’s time to return.

Sadness surrounds him as he enters his home sans that elusive sound.

Perhaps however, that which he really sought is somewhere he’s never thought to look …

Friendship rules in this totally enchanting debut picture book: Cindy’s scenes be they urban or in the wilds, are wonderful, especially those where music flourishes thanks to the notes furnished by Roy’s violin and the various other harmonious sounds.

Sheer joie-de-vivre abounds in the final pages, though listeners could have fun looking for pleasant sound possibilities in every spread.

In Cindy Wume, an exciting new talent has emerged.

Monty Monkey & Elsie Elephant / Happy Birthday to You!

Monty Monkey
Elsie Elephant

Nikki Dyson
Nosy Crow

Two additions to the sound button series of stories both told in rhyme by Nikki Dyson.
Monty is a monkey that tires of his diet of bananas and searches the jungle for alternative ‘fruity treats’. He takes a pineapple belonging to some parrots, snatches a juicy mango from the mouth of Snake and helps himself to a couple of Aardvark’s coconuts. Just as he’s about to tuck in, along comes a large gorilla and …

Elsie lives on the plains and one night she decides to stay up and play. The trouble is she wants other animals to play with her, animals that would far rather be fast asleep under the starry skies.
Will she ever snuggle down for some shut-eye and if so, when?

Despite the brevity of these stories, their main characters, have, in Nikki Dyson’s illustrations real personalities that very young children can relate to. Those same children will delight in pressing the sound buttons that make authentic monkey and elephant sounds.

Happy Birthday to You!
Nicola Slater
Nosy Crow

Bear, Badger and Cat set out, each with a musical instrument: Bear plays her flute, Badger his guitar, Cat her violin and they all seem to be heading for the same destination. What could it be?
Then along comes little Otter. He too turns up at the same place as the other animals. Could there be a special celebration within?
Find out in this jolly interactive board book; it includes music and a special final light-up surprise.

Just right for sharing on a toddler’s special day.

Beware the Mighty Bitey

Beware the Mighty Bitey
Heather Pindar and Susan Batori
Maverick Arts Publishing

Nippy Pool lies deep in the jungle; it’s the home of The Mighty Bitey Piranhas. These creatures with their razor-sharp teeth lurk beneath the waters over which hangs a rope bridge, frayed and apt to sway, waiting for something tasty to come their way and singing their favourite song.

Along come in turn Mouse, Goat and Bear, each with his musical instrument; and all on their way to Cougar’s party. Each accepts the “Please play for us!” invitation of the Mighty Biteys causing the fragile bridge to sway and dip ever closer to the water until suddenly amid all the ding-dings, dong dungs …

and roompah, oom-papahs, leaving the rope dangling precariously by a single twine …

Are the party-going animals about to become the piranhas’ next meal or will party-throwing Cougar and his pals be the ones feasting?

A suspenseful tale from Heather Pindar to keep listeners on the edges of their seats, deliciously illustrated by Susan Batori with toothsome scenes of ferocious fish and musical mammals.