Musicians When They Were Children

Learning from Creative Thinkers’ Lives
The wealth of picture books devoted to the lives of creative people meant there had to be a follow-up to last week’s book flight  But where to begin?  Focusing on people who are musically creative seemed a logical next step.  Wait till you dig into these beautiful books –and glimpse the childhood  lives and talents of the following music makers.   There is something for everyone below, no matter where your musical tastes lie.

For the Love of Music:  The Remarkable Story of Maria Anna Mozart by Elizabeth Rusch

Maria Mozart was a musical prodigy, just like her much more famous brother Wolfgang.  As children, they performed together, toured Europe, collaborated and wrote music together.  But as they grew older, Wolfgang was encouraged to continue his musical career–while Maria was encouraged to stop her life’s work and marry.  The author’s notes are particularly fascinating, as they describe the musical world Maria was living in, and the limitations for women at that time.  A beautifully told story, with rich paintings  that are especially detailed in facial expression and emotion.


When Bob Met Woody:  The Story of the Young Bob Dylan by Gary Golio, illustrated by Marc Burckhardt

This biographical picture book focuses on Dylan’s youth in Minnesota, in the days when he was still Bob Zimmerman.   As a kid, he loved music, but had no use for lessons, teaching himself  to play both piano and guitar. When he was 19, he was so drawn to Woody Guthrie’s music, he hitchhiked across the country to visit him in the hospital.  Guthrie became his mentor, in both life and music.   The illustrations by Marc Burckhardt are a wonderful and joyous look at the young Dylan as he grows from a small-town kid to an aspiring performer to a genuine folksinger in the center of it all in Greenwich Village.


If I Only Had a Horn:  Young Louis Armstrong by Roxanne Orgill, illustrated by Leonard Jenkins

Louis Armstrong grew up in a city of music, New Orleans.  The music was everywhere–on street corners, in the homes, dancing out of doorways; this rich musical atmosphere helped shape the young Louis into the musical giant he became.  But as a young boy, it was a struggle for him to get the horn he was driven to play.  He had to overcome incredible odds in order to  learn and grow from playing a beat-up old bugle to the cornet of his dreams. The swirling colors of the illustrations echo the jazz-y music that surrounds Louis.  It’s a wonderful introduction to the great jazz master.


The Little Piano Girl:  The Story of Mary Lou Williams by Ann Ingalls

Another jazz great had a lifelong musical career that began in her childhood:  Mary Lou Williams.  She began playing the piano when she was only 4 years old, and played piano for anyone who would listen to her. She shows her bravery and talent throughout her Pittsburgh childhood.  With its simple but elegant illustrations and poignant writing, this book is a wonderful tribute to a strong female musician.


Odetta:  The Queen of Folk by Stephen Alcorn

“Spirituals, gospel, prison, and work songs: the cup of soup Odetta grew up on!” writes Stephen Alcorn.  Through his lyrical text and the quilted flowing patterns of his illustrations,  we learn about the years folk pioneer Odetta spent in the 1930’s and 40’s growing up under Jim Crow laws.  Her love of music was a solace as she banged away on the piano–but it was also informed by her passion for social justice.  This book is a wonderful introduction for young readers to Odetta–and the list of further resources and recordings of her work is a helpful addition.

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