Reviewer’s Digest // Music Resources

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On Wednesdays I am not only a blogger, I am also a piano teacher for young children. My class is a preparatory class. I do not teach on the piano, I teach music history and theory, relying on good literature and interactive activities to engage the imaginations of children ages 3-10 and cultivate in them a love for music. In addition to books on my family’s shelf, I went through a list of “Popular Children’s Books on Music” that I found on Goodreads. About a quarter of them I found at my local library and personally went through. Below is a list of the books that made it home with me to read. Books I used in my class are marked with an *. All age recommendations are my own, as field-tested in my class.

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*Can You Hear It? by William Lach

5 stars // ages 2+

Can You Hear It? is structured different than all the other books I have reviewed here. It covers 12 famous classical pieces and shows children (and adults!) what to listen for in each one. The accompanying audio cd has 2-3 minutes clips of each piece (some are short songs, others are excerpts), the book displays a famous work of art that corresponds in theme to the song, and a side panel lists the instruments used in the piece and what role they play. For example, in Vivaldi’s Four Seasons: Winter readers are encouraged to listen for the “clumsy skater” played by the violins, violas, and cellos quickly moving all the way down the scale. Even young children are able to grasp this concept and listen eagerly for the sounds. As an adult, I felt the book gave me the tools I needed to be more engaged with classical music. Though you could read the book cover to cover in a single sitting, I prefer to focus on one song a week in my class.

Note to Parent: one of the songs, “Fossils” is accompanied by the morbid illustration “The Rattling Skeletons.” Since the book is constructed in a series of two-page spreads, I simply taped the pages together and my students were none the wiser.

The Philharmonic Gets Dressed by Karia Kuskin

2 stars // ages 2-8

I had thought the title was metaphorical, but it is in fact, not. The book is / literally/ about the members of the Philharmonic orchestra getting dressed.

No garment is spared mention or illustration. If you start reading mid-book it’s a cute read–I love the line “one hundred and five men and women dressed completely in black and white have gone to work turning the black notes on white pages into a symphony”–but otherwise I was not impressed.

MY FRIEND THE PIANO by Catherine Cowan

1 star

I cannot figure out why this would be on a popular children’s book list unless it was an unruly child or perhaps a free-thinking postmodernist compiling the list. No piano teacher or sensible parent would recommend it. The book emphasizes individuality at the expense of skill and any traditional standard for what is “music.” It is a whimsical story but it encourages children to despise instruction, refuse to practice, and stubbornly pound on the keys at random and consider themselves geniuses for doing so. Not to mention the story-line doesn’t make a great deal of sense. The book ends with the piano in the ocean happily swimming with dolphins and the girl coming to visit it and hear the noise she calls music. I appreciate personification and fantasy elements in literature but this is beyond any reason or meaning.

*Fiddle-I-Fee by Will Hillenbrand

4 stars // ages 2-10

I was surprised by how much the kids took to this book. It is a simple story set on a farm that begins with the lines “I had a cat, my cat pleased me, I fed my cat under yonder tree. My cat plays ‘fiddle-I-fee.’ ” Each page mirrors these lines, substituting a different farm animal each time and adding on sounds that each animal plays like “Old MacDonald Had a Farm,” culminating in the birth of the farming couple’s child who they in turn, feed “under yonder tree” and is entertained by the fiddle-playing cat. The book doesn’t teach any music theory per se, and most of the animals don’t even play real instruments (but rather, improvised farm equipment), but the book has a definite rhythm that children love. If you read the lines right you can give it an iambic pentameter and keep time by tapping your foot as you read. After repeated readings children will begin to hear and imitate the cadence. Even though they don’t understand what meter is, the recitation will train their ears to hear it. This is foundational to early music education.

*Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin! By Lloyd Moss

5 stars // ages 2-10

With dancing alliteration and lively illustrations, Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin! introduces children of all ages to ten instruments, their look and sound, and teaches children how to count them (“one and two-o, that’s a duo!”). This was another class favorite. Even my repeat students beg to hear the story again and again. With each re-read my students noticed more details in the illustrations (in the background of one page you can see the clarinet player balancing his instrument of his nose and the man playing the French Horn with his head stuck inside the bell!) and with frequent re-readings I used the book as an opportunity to apply the concepts I was teaching them through flash card games (“The Bassoon plays low notes. Which Clef will its notes be on?”).

THE PIANO by William Miller

4 stars // ages 3+

A sweet story set in the Deep South in the early 1900s about a young black girl who loves music and makes a friend with a middle-class white woman who has a piano. The girl doesn’t know how to play and the woman’s hands have grown too stiff to play but together they learn to make music. (Though I love and would recommend the book, I did not read the book in my class because of some racial slurs that I thought best to avoid.)

*Babar: To Duet or Not To Duet by Elaine Waisglass

5 stars // ages 3-10

Babar is a story book about the rewards of diligent practice and an honest assessment of your skills. Babar learns that you cannot become a skilled pianist overnight and that there is no shame in starting small. This is a longer book that some of my youngest students become restless during half-way through, but my mid to older students are always eager to hear again.

*Gabriella’s Song by Candace Fleming

5 stars // ages 3-10

This was the teacher’s favorite. Gabriella’s Song illustrates through story the connective power music has with our daily lives. The sounds of Venice Gabriella hears on her stroll home from the market becomes a song she softly hums, a song the Baker finds “makes his heart light and his feet feel “like dancing” but the widow Santucci considers a “sad song” that makes her long for “younger, happier days.” The song makes its way from the Baker to the Widow Santucci to Luigi the gondolier who dubs it a magnificent love song. The gondolier brings the music down the channels and through the streets. Housewives, dockworkers, and schoolchildren all began humming and whistling Gabriella’s song, bringing the music beneath the window of the brilliant composer Giuseppe Del Pietro who on this day struggled to write even a simple tune. That was it! That was the song he needed for his upcoming performance! It became Del Pietro’s greatest symphony by far and it all began with a young girl listening to the sounds of her beloved city.

*Meet the Orchestra by Ann Hayes

5 stars // ages 5-10

This was another of my favorites. Each page introduces an instrument played by an animal (often one associated in some way with the instrument) with rich poetry describing not only the sound but the mood and unique power of each instrument. For example, Ann Hayes says of the clarinet that “it tootles up and down the scale, never tripping over a note. Its cool tones melt in your ears just like ice cream melts in your mouth.”

I found that this book did not hold the attention of younger students for more than a couple pages though my older ones enjoyed it. (I adored it.)

The Composer Is Dead by Lemony Snicket

4 stars // ages 6-12

A clever introduction to the instruments in an orchestra and the roles they play. I enjoyed the author’s characteristic wit and word-play though some mothers would (understandably) find it too morbid for their children. For example: “THE COMPOSER IS DEAD. ‘Composer’ is a word which here means ‘a person who sits in a room, muttering and humming and figuring out what notes the orchestra is going to play.’ This is called composing. But last night, the Composer was not muttering. He was not humming. He was not moving, or even breathing. This is called decomposing.”

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*The Story of the Incredible Orchestra by Bruce Koscielniak

4 stars // 10+

I have yet to get through this book in its entirety in my class. It is an informative and interesting book that goes succinctly and systematically through music history but takes awhile to read and does not engage my younger students. I usually read just one or two spreads each class (each spread introduces the instruments of a single time period), and allow my students to point out instruments in the picture that look interesting to them. I then tell them it’s name and whether it played high notes or low notes. Although it did not appeal to my students–whom are all 10 years and younger–it would be a wonderful resource for older children. The text is dry but the illustrations are bright and engaging. A vast array of instruments both well-known and obscure are pictured and described in their historical context, giving children a fitting introduction to the wealth of musical history.


For those interested, I am offering three options for PIANO PRIMER SUMMER CLASSES this year:

3 day class June 9th, 10th, & 11th
3 day class June 16th, 17th, & 18th
3 week class July 15th, 22nd, & 29th

Woodlands TX area. 50 minutes per day. Time slots to be determined. Ages 3-10, $12 per class per student or $30 for three classes paid at first class, please email pianoprimerclass@gmail.com to register or for more information visit my Facebook page.

My First (and Second) Nomination

I am so honored to receive my first ever–and second!–blog award. I’m positively giddy. Thank you Heather L. L. Fitzgerald from The Tethered World and Stephanie Florentino of The Gathering Fire for each nominating me, both of your blogs are a source of great inspiration to me as well.

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For those who don’t know, Heather’s first book in a series of Young Adult fantasy novels is due for publication this spring! Heather is as much at home with dragons, gnomes, trolls, and Bigfoot legends as she is with a Christian homeschool girl for a heroine, delivering an adventure with a charmingly unique setting that departs from stereotypical YA Fiction.

Though a great fan of C. S. Lewis’ Narnia, Heather’s story-world is closer to that of J. K. Rowling’s, in that it is a fantasy world that breaks into our own, startling us with what was there all along but unseen. She has accordingly provided opportunities for readers to engage in her story world through other means besides the books–for the books are only a record of what exists outside them. You can go the website and read about the creatures of The Tethered World, follow the lead character, Sadie Larcen, on Pinterest, and follow her mom’s blog Land of Legends. You can also find pictures from The Tethered World on Instagram and hashtag photos that make you think of secret places and mysterious creatures. And over at Tethered Together, Heather writes frankly and winsomely about the woes and joys of being a writer, sharing things she has learned and encouraging writers to connect with other writers.

Stephanie is a fantasy writer, piano-teacher, and Irish-enthusiast. It is delightful to see the ways she blends these three interests. I look forward every month to her in-depth analysis of a hymn. She explains, musically, why the composer’s choices affect us the way it does–why one note leaves us longing for more and why another note makes our hearts swell with joy and how both strengthen the meaning of the words they melodize. She writes with the expertise of an accomplished musician, but in a way accessible even to those completely unfamiliar with music theory. And if that was not amazing enough, when she reviews songs written in Irish, she supplies her own translation! So far I have received only tantalizing glimpses into the fantasy novel she is writing, but I can already see how her gifts as a music teacher cross over into that of storyteller. A certain cadence, an attention to detail, and a lively imagination.

Now for the RULES of the nomination:

Post the award on your blog.
Thank your nominator, of course!
List 7 facts about yourself.
Nominate up to 15 other blogs you are inspired by.

Post the rules so people know them.

Here are my seven random facts about myself:

  1. I can easily read text backwards, upside-down, mirror image, and, with a little extra effort, upside-down mirror image. So far, I have found two uses for this talent: checking my younger siblings’ school work from across the table (much to their amazement) and reading t-shirts and book titles of IG selfies.
  2. I’m really slow to follow fads. I didn’t read The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter till seven, eight, and nine years (respectively) after I’d first heard of them. I still haven’t read The Hunger Games, the Percy Jackson series, The Fault in Our Stars, or Divergent. Generally speaking, I want to be really sure a book’s worth reading before I pick it up, and for me, part of that process is seeing if people are still talking about the book several years after the buzz has worn off.
  1. I am the owner of DesignCraft Jewelry, where I make “Stories You Can Wear” from wood I turn into beads on my daddy’s lathe
  2. I have 10 email addresses registered under my name. One is for this blog, one is for my piano primer classes, one is for a forum I started several years back and have since handed over to others, one is for a prank a friend and I did, one is my personal address, and one is my old personal address that was too long for people to remember, took too long writing down, and was frequently confused with the similar address of a girl in Missouri (this landed me with a copy of her church directory, an invitation to a Mr. Smith’s sock-themed birthday party, and an introduction to the head deacon.) The remaining four addresses represent the different phases of my jewelry business: EmilyJCrafts, Mimis_Pretties, DesignCraft Accessories, and finally, DesignCraft Jewelry.
  3. If you tickle me, this really happens: tumblr_mdk5rp43Mw1rrqglzo1_500
  4. I still get as giddy as a five-year-old boy when I get in glass elevators or stand under dinosaur skeletons. Because, clearly the elevator is a rocket ship and the dinosaur bones might start moving if you look long enough.
  5. I love surprises, provided they are carefully planned and I am prepared for them.

Raelea Hiller of The Starlit Forest

Raelea is a poet, self-consciously writing in the stream of J. R. R. Tolkien. Many have tried this, but Raelea displays the rare skill of truly dancing with language. She understands the rhythm of words and knows how to follow their lead, gracefully turning and swaying with the music she is teaching us to hear. Whether it’s a poem or an excerpt from her in-progress fairy tale, I always walk away from Raelea’s writing with a fresh love for words.

Shelbie W. of Called to Joy

Shelbie is a long-time dear friend of mine and fellow-writer. Back before she moved to Arkansas, Shelbie and I passed many a Sunday afternoon talking stories over our church’s fellowship meal–much to the bewilderment of those around us who often mistook our fictional creations for real people in real life! She nurtured and shaped my passion for storytelling and I have had the privilege of being one of her top editors and sounding-boards for the novel she is writing. As we’ve remarked before–our email and text fragments would not look good on our records in a criminal investigation, haha! Besides working on a novel, Shelbie also helps out with her family farm, ministers in her church, and writes beautiful, thoughtful, grace-saturated weekly devotionals on her blog.

Abby Jones of A Gentle and Quiet Spirit

Abby. Where do I begin? Her blog is a rich mixture of quotes, meditations, reviews, WIP (that’s Works-In-Progress if you haven’t heard the term before), and short stories written for her nieces and nephews. As the daughter of a Reformed Baptist pastor and the wife of a man pursuing a pastoral vocation, Abby is solid in her theology, yet in tune with the nuances of storytelling–a refreshing rarity! She is currently in the editing stage of a Young Adult fairy tale which I have had the privilege of reading a draft of.

Her writing is Tolkienish but extremely compact and efficient. I am floored by how much she communicates in just a few lines. Everything in her story has the feel of something I’ve read in other fairy tales yet completely unique–like things I’d never heard before but felt like I have and had just forgotten. Her world is frightening but beautiful at the same time–quivering with hidden beauty waiting to be released.

Abby is great about supporting other writers all along the spectrum, from girls in their early teens trying out their hand at novel-writing to adult friends getting ready to publish. She has introduced me to so many other writers (including three of the ones mentioned in this post) and encouraged me in my reviews.

But probably the thing I admire most about Abby is her priority of serving in her home and church. This is demonstrated in both what she writes and how. Ironically, right now she inspires me by not writing. Because of a recent decline in health, Abby has taken a blogging break so that she can use what energy she has to being a faithful wife and church member.

Abby has shown me in word and deed what it looks like to submit your gifts to God and use them to glorify Him.

Deanna Brown of Strokeman’s Woman

I had the pleasure of meeting Deanna in a writing group Abby hosted and hearing an excerpt from the autobiography she is writing on her experience as a caretaker for her husband, who suffered a stroke several years back. Even though I didn’t know her at the time and was jumping in at a later point in her book, I was immediately moved by her story of love and long-suffering. She tells her story with raw honesty, sharing both the good and bad, but still with honor for her husband. Her love, her honor, her faith and dependence on Christ, and her commitment to her church inspire me.

1 Year Anniversary

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Yesterday marked the day I first announced to friends and family the creation of “Living in Heaven’s Shadow.” Wow, I can’t believe it’s been an entire year since I launched this blog! I want to extend a big thank you to all my followers and those who have read and commented on my posts, offering me feedback and encouragement. I am immensely grateful for your support.