When you can educate a child while you are entertaining her or him, then you’ve succeeded. Little Creatures, by Ana Gerhard does this with gusto.
Introducing a child to an art form, especially something in the ‘classics’ (i.e. classical music, art, literature) is often a challenge (typically because a child is exposed to so much pop culture in everyday life) but what Gerhard does is select a subject that children can identify with … animals and insects. Fortunately there have been a few composers and compositions that draw inspiration from the animal kingdom from which Gerhard has to choose.
Some of these selections are fairly obvious – “Flight of the Bumblebee” by Rimsky-Korsakov and “The Frog” by Hayden and “Two Insect Pieces” by Britten – and some much less so – “Israel in Egypt” by Handel, “Bardic Sounds” by Mertz, and “Sensemayá” by Revueltas.
Each selected piece (there are twenty) gets one brief description and a double page spread of artwork (beautifully and wildly created by Mauricio Gómez Morin). In the description, we typically learn a little about the animal selected, how the composer uses that animal’s sound in the selected audio piece, and maybe a little bit about the composer.
Selected musical terms are highlighted and there is a glossary at the back of the book that is quite helpful.
While targeted to a child, unless the adult reading this to/with the child is quite familiar with the classical music world (I am not) then there is plenty for the adults to learn here as well, and this book seems to cater to we adults almost as much or more than to the youngsters. There is a section of the book with a mini biography of all the composers included in this volume, as well as a timeline of the composers’ lives and the period of music in which they composed.
The book comes with a CD with sections of the selected works (and a listening guide inside the book). I have to admit that there were a few selections in which I simply could not hear the animal represented, but I recognize that this may not be true for all readers/listeners. I would have liked longer works on the CD, but I recognize the many challenges with that. Certainly most of the selected works can be found with a couple of quick online searches or by visiting a library with CD selections.
There is a lot to like about this book and it will be great to have on the bookshelf, but at the same time it feels like it is missing just a little something more. For me, it’s the lack of story to draw the child in. Non-fiction is okay for children – it can be great! – but I still feel like for a child to sit and listen to someone reading to them they need to be drawn in by more than just the pictures, and the two or three paragraphs about each selected work just isn’t captivating enough for the multiple readings a picture book usually provides.
Looking for a good book? If you are looking to encourage your child to appreciate classical music, or even if you want to learn more yourself, Little Creatures: An Introduction to Classical Music by Ana Gerhard, with art by Mauricio Gómez Morin, is a splendid choice. But the lack of a catchy narrative surrounding each piece may have some youngsters grow bored during the reading. This may be better for the older reader, despite the picture book format.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher, through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.
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Little Creatures: An Introduction to Classical Music
author: Ana Gerhard
artist: Mauricio Gómez Morin
publisher: The Secret Mountain
hardcover (with CD), 62 pages