Wednesday, June 4, 2014

My First Classical Music Book and My First Orchestra Book (Naxos Books)

Another month has come and gone, and the books keep pouring in at Stuart's Study. Sometimes, I (and I'm sure my wife) feel like we are going to have to add a wing to the house just to house all of our books. It is a great problem to have, though, and one I wouldn't trade. Starting this blog has not only exposed me to a world of Catholic books I never would have known about, but it has also exposed me to a world of children's books too. It has also helped restore my faith in some of the publishing world to know that there are still publishers out there who print quality books for kids, and not Twilight or other garbage series. Naxos Books is one of those publishers, and even though they don't specialize in publishing children's books, they have released two recently that are worth checking out.

My First Classical Music Book is large hardcover book written by Genevieve Helsby and illustrated by Jason Chapman. The book begins by discussing what music is and where you can find it in our everyday lives. One place we see music utilized is in TV and movies. The book uses legendary American composer John Williams as their example. Though, I know Williams primarily from Star Wars, the book uses his work from the Harry Potter film as their example. The book then instructs your children to other places they hear music including dance, weddings, theatres and concert halls.

Next, in the book they will learn about famous composer through the ages. Such composers they will learn about include Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, and the recent John Adams. You will notice that this isn't every possible composer, because my favorite, Handel, was not listed. Nevertheless, it is a good introductory list. Each composer receives two pages of facts, illustrations, and a brief description of their music. For example, Tchaikovsky's music is categorized as ballet music. The final section is dedicated to instruments. The author takes us through each family of instruments (strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion, and keyboard) and gives us about a paragraph of detail (either description of the instrument or who played the instrument really well or both) related to each individual instrument. This is a great section as it introduces your child to instruments they might never have heard of before, and might pique their interest in learning their first instrument or an additional instrument.

There are a lot of things to love about this book. The illustrations are cartoon in style, which will appeal to the younger reader. The words are in a large print and there is an appropriate amount on the page. By this I mean that there aren't huge chunks of text, but a good representation of illustration and text on the page. My favorite part, though, is the accompanying CD. You will want to have a CD player nearby while reading this book to your child, because almost every page has a track that corresponds to it. For example, when learning about the woodwind family, your child will hear a selection of Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf." They can also just listen to the CD by itself at anytime. This is a 5-star book and the perfect introduction to classical music for elementary to middle school grade children. I think I enjoyed it as much as kids will!

My First Orchestra Book is the "sequel" to My First Classical Music Book. It too is written by Genevieve Helsby, but the illustrator for this volume is Karin Eklund, not Jason Chapman. This book begins a bit odd. Your child is introduced to a troll named Tormod who travels down from his mountain to discover more types of music. In his travels, he discovers the orchestra and serves as your guide through the book.

The primary focus of this book is families of instruments. Where My First Classical Music Book gave you a brief introduction to these families and instruments, this book provides you with more details. Also, unlike the first book, only the string, woodwind, brass, and percussion families are discussed. There is no mention of the keyboard family. Like the first book, though, there is an accompanying CD with tracks to play corresponding to different pages. Every section begins by describing the common characteristics of a particular family. For example, in the woodwind family, the instruments they all have a long tube-like shape and they all have reeds. Each of the instruments detailed in each family is given two pages with details on how the instrument sounds and how many are generally found in an orchestra. At the end of the book are details on what a conductor is as well as some "part-time" orchestra instruments like the harp.

This was a good follow-up book, and leaves me wondering if there will be a third in the series or just these two. I have some minor gripes about this book. I didn't like the troll story/guide, but that could just be me being a stodgy adult. I also preferred the illustrations in My First Classical Music Book better. They just felt a little more whimsical and inviting to me. Those complaints aside there were parts of this book I really loved. I particularly appreciate the way the author presents the material to children. She makes it fun and easily understood. She also does a masterful job picking out the appropriate songs for each instrument. What I really appreciated related to the CD and the song choice was that you get 2 tracks for almost every instrument. You get to hear what the instrument sounds like by itself, and then you get to hear what a group of the same instrument sounds like together. This creates a lasting impression on the reader, and will hopefully build a love for music and the orchestra in them that they want to take up an instrument, or at the very least go see some shows.

These books were provided to me for free by Naxos Books in exchange for an honest review. If you found the reviews helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes! Also be sure to check out their website for other books, CDs, etc. related to Classical Music!