Archive for Music

Over in the Grasslands: On an African Savanna

Written by Marianne Berkes
Illustrated by Jill Dubin

The latest installment of the Marianne Berkes series has a lot going on. It is a counting book, reinforced by both the numbers of baby animals and the lineup of African gourd rattles. It is poetry, set to the rhythm of the traditional song “Over in the Meadow.” It is for learning about the African savanna and the animals that inhabit that area. It is hunting for nearly hidden animals in the pictures. It teaches about the song itself and about the techniques used by the illustrator.

Over in the grasslands
Where the acacia trees grew
Lived a tall mother giraffe
And her little calves two.

Altogether, first or second graders get to learn about twenty animals. Some of them may seem familiar from the zoo, – zebra, giraffe, elephant – but many are probably animals the readers have never seen – redbilled oxpeckers, naked mole rats, leopard tortoises. And none of them live your backyard. In the last pages, Berkes writes about the many themes used, including the ten different adjectives and the different baby names used. She also mentions many places to learn more, and she was careful to expalin that the numbers of babies each animal can have is fictional. Dubin writes about her collage technique, how important the different papers are, and what inspired the details.

A great addition to the counting library.

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  • over-in-the-grasslandsTitle: Over in the Grasslands: On an African Savanna
  • Author: Marianne Berkes
  • Illustrator: Jill Dubin
  • Publisher: Dawn Publishers, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 2
  • Genre: Nature, Geography, Counting, Poetry, Music
  • ISBN: 978-1-58469-568-4
  • Extras: Fact or Fiction?, Life on the African Savanna, Who Are the “Hidden” Animals in the Grasslands?, About the Animals, Tips from the Author, Tips from the Illustrator, Over in the Grasslands [music]

Emma and Julia Love Ballet

Written and Illustrated by Barbara McClintock

Ballet is the star of this story so beautifully done by award winning-illustrator Barbara McClintock. Emma is a little girl who lives in the country and takes ballet lessons. Julia is a grown-up ballerina. The story is beautifully told in parallel fashion as we see each girl get breakfast and go through their day. Besides the comparison between how they do things because of their age, is the comparison of rural versus city life. It is a fascinating dance within the story itself.

The diversity factor also plays in this story as Julia is of African American descent, reflecting the realities of our current prima-ballerina in the United States. A marvelous conclusion to the story has Emma asking for Julia’s autograph with Julia answering, how she once shared Emma’s dream of becoming a ballerina. So this is a different kind of circle story. Where the mouse ends up wanting another cookie, in this instance, the book clearly tells little girls who love ballet their dream can be realized.

Stretches and poses were carefully studied thus beautifully illustrated. Current and former ballet students will recognize the positions. Other types of dances are also represented and encouraged.

This book is a delight and should be part of every school and public library. Teachers will fulfill many core curriculum standards in literacy such as picture clues, sequencing, comparing and contrasting, as well as, main idea.  An all-around winner!

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  • Emma and JuliaTitle: Emma and Julia Love Ballet
  • Author/Illustrator: Barbara McClintock
  • Publisher: Scholastic, 2016
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-439-89401-2
  • Genre: Picture Book
  • Grade level: PreK to 2


Ketzel, The Cat Who Composed

Written by Lesléa Newman
Illustrated by Amy June Bates

Ketzel was just a kitten when the man, Moshe, found her cold and lonely on the street. They became great friends as Moshe worked on his musical compositions. Moshe was stumped after he received notice of the Paris New Music Review contest to highlight short compositions – less than a minute. As Moshe pondered the music in his head, Ketzel walked across the piano keyboard and picked out a beautiful tune. Moshe wrote down what he heard. It took twenty-one seconds to play. He sent it to the contest organizers. Ketzel didn’t win, but her tune got a certificate of special mention and was played at a concert, which Ketzel attended with Moshe. Her presence was revealed when she responded to her name at the introduction of the piece. Ketzel also got a royalty check for the composition, enough to buy several cans of cat food.

The illustrator has captured the whimsy of this great story.

Based on a true story, this lovely book is easily read independently by second graders looking to strengthen literacy skills. It’s a great reminder that talent can come in small packages. That talent only needs to be recognized.

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  • KetzelTitle: Ketzel, The Cat Who Composed
  • Author: Lesléa Newman
  • Illustrator: Amy June Bates
  • Published: Candlewick, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • Grade Level: K to 3
  • Genre: History, Music
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6555-5
  • Extras: Author’s Note