Listening to music has helped my family get through many tough days in 2020, and I’m sure we’re not the only ones. Even when we’re not listening, we can inspire kids to appreciate music’s history, creation process, and impact with these books.
By Dan Brown; illustrated by Susan Batori (Rodale Kids, 2020)
A mouse conductor gathers his animal friends to play in his orchestra; each animal plays a different instrument while sharing a little life wisdom. The author composed pieces of classical music to represent each animal’s personality, which kids can hear by downloading an app, scanning the QR code in the book, and holding a phone over each page. Kids can also search for letters hidden in the illustrations that spell out the instrument names.
By Kathleen M. Blasi; illustrated by Shane W. Evans (Sterling Publishing, 2020)
Hosea takes the bus into the city each day to play his saxophone, collecting the money that people toss into his instrument case. In the end, Hosea uses the money to purchase a trumpet for a neighborhood boy. It’s based on the true story of Hosea Taylor, Jr., from Rochester, New York, who made a habit of purchasing instruments and offering free music lessons to neighborhood children.
By Matthew Forsythe (A Paula Wiseman Book, 2019)
Pokko’s parents regret their decision to give Pokko a drum—now they can’t hear anything else! They send Pokko outdoors to play, and a crowd of animals playing instruments follow her. The loud musical crowd carries Pokko’s quiet parents off into the woods, and in the end, they all agree that Pokko is pretty good on her drum.
By Selina Alko (Harper, 2020)
Collage illustrations accompany the life story of singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell. The book shows how Joni took complex emotions and experiences and put them into song; it also pays tribute to the many musicians with whom she crossed paths. Excerpts from her famous lyrics are woven into the illustrations.
By Carole Boston Weatherford; illustrated by Bryan Collier (Atheneum, 2020)
Written in rhyme, this book tells the life story of gospel composer Charles Albert Tindley, who learned to read from newspaper scraps and walked five miles barefoot to church. The story follows his journey from farmhand to student to pastor to musical composer, best known for the gospel hymn, “We’ll Understand It Better By and By.”
By Lesa Cline-Ransome; illustrated by James E. Ransome (Holiday House, 2014)
Two men from very different backgrounds became the first black-and-white jazz band in history: Benny, the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants from Chicago; and Teddy, a Black man who grew up in Tuskegee, Alabama. The story shows how music brought the men together and helped them contribute to the jazz style known as swing.
By Brendan Kearney (Sterling Children’s Books, 2019)
Mac the millipede wants to enter the talent show, but he’s too shy to perform alone. He decides to find a band to join, but after asking one group after another, he’s not quite the right fit for any of them. In the end, he performs alone, playing multiple instruments thanks to his many legs, as his new musical friends cheer him on.
Librarians and book experts also recommend:
- Jazz by Walter Dean Myers; illustrated by Christopher Myers
- M is for Melody by Kathy-jo Wargin; illustrated by Katherine Larson
- Just a Lucky So-and-So: The Story of Louis Armstong by Lesa Cline-Ransome; illustrated by James E. Ransome
- Guitar Genius by Kim Tomsic; illustrated by Brett Helquist
- 88 Instruments by Chris Barton; illustrated by Louis Thomas
- The Music in George’s Head by Suzanne Slade; illustrated by Stacy Innerst
- When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan; Illustrated Brian Selznick
- Becoming Bach by Paul Leonard
- The Bremen Town Musicians by Brian Wildsmith
- Bubble Kisses by Vanessa Williams; illustrated by Tara Nicole Whitaker
- John Philip Duck by Patricia Palacco; illustrated by
- The Music of Life: Bartolomeo Cristifori and the Invention of the Piano by Elizabth Rusch; illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
- Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews; illustrated by Bryan Collier
- Duke Ellington by Andrea Davis Pinkney; illustrated by Brian Pinkney
- Ketzel, The Cat Who Composed by Leslea Newman; illustrated by Amy June Bates
- Song and Dance Man by Karen Ackerman; illustrated by Stephen Gammell
- Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford; illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
- Goodnight Songs Treasury by Margaret Wise Brown
- Lilah Tov Good Night by Ben Gundersheimer; illustrated by Noar Lee Naggan
Wild Symphony: Penguin Random House. Hosea Plays On, Musical Mac: Sterling Publishing. Pokko and the Drum, By and By: Simon and Schuster. Joni: HarperCollins Publishers. Benny Goodman & Teddy Wilson: Holiday House. Background: Getty Images.