How very sad that history is so tragically boring for so many students. I feel like I got the short end of the stick in growing up not interested in history. This is why I’ve made it my personal mission to bring people and cultures and events and pasts alive and relevant to my own children. Picture books are an amazing help in this category. Currently in the thick of the American Western Expansion as well as Ancient Rome, I’ve been glued to the stories my children and I read together. Who knew it could be so fascinating?! The story of mankind is downright riveting!
As it is, we utilize picture books a lot to learn about composers and music. The stories behind some of the greatest music in the world are tremendously compelling. The first dip into living music history has been brought to us courtesy of the books by Anna Harwell Celenza and I’ve even used her books as spines for which composer we study. (Still waiting on Mozart Anna! Will I have to settle for the nice but incomplete The Magic Flute: An Opera by Mozart? Or try to find a copy of the tragically out of print Mozart Finds a Melody?Thankfully, Diane Stanley offers us a good biography to start with: Mozart: The Wonder Child). Each of Celenza’s books doesn’t try to give a biographical sketch of the composer (like some other good picture books out there) but rather focuses on the individual story that inspired a particular piece of music, e.g. Beethoven’s joy and then dissilusionment about Napoleon with The Heroic Symphony or the homesick musicians who put their feet down with Haydn’s Farewell Symphony, etc. Her latest installment is Vivaldi’s Four Seasons which is at the top of my wish list!
As it is, finding picture books on some of the less famous composers is much more difficult. This is why I was particularly delighted to read Lauren Stringer’s newest book: When Stravinsky Met Nijinsky. The story is my favorite kind for my multi-aged family. Simple and easy for my 6 year old to understand and enjoy and with comprehensive end-notes for my 10 year old to research further into it. Stringer illustrated the book in her typical bold colorful way but with added meaning:
Dance and music were not the only arts undergoing colossal change at the beginning of the twentieth century. All of the arts were exploding in new compositions, colors and dimensions. In celebration of that change, I have made reference to many of my favorite paintings from that time throughout this book. To illustrate when Stravinsky and Nijinsky first met in 1911, I found inspiration in elements of The Red Studio by Henri Matisse, painted in the same year. Cubism took the art world by storm in 1907… several of my illustrations reflect cubist influence on that angular, flattened choreography of Nijinsky and the fractured, dissonant chords of Stravinsky’s music…
The story is about The Rite of Spring and how that came to be. The extraordinary thing about this is how one 34 minute ballet could cause a riot in 1913 Paris! The audience was so taken aback by the very novelty of the music and dancers that they protested and argued and threw punches over whether it was a disaster or brilliance!
My kids, so saturated in such a wide variety of music and dance nowadays found this to be quite perplexing and amusing. Stringer’s website provides an activity guide for this book that makes the entire story an excellent cornerstone for a unit study. History is thrilling indeed!