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Children’s picture books share the gifts of song and music

This Christmas, give young children the gifts of song and music – wonderful gifts from God! – by sharing these books with them.

Children’s picture books share the gifts of song and music

In the five children’s picture books reviewed below, songs and music are common themes: the angels’ proclamation-song of salvation; music played in the midst of poverty; a poignant attempt to master an instrument; a silly song sung for the fun of it; and songs sung to ward off fear and heartbreak. This Christmas, give young children the gifts of song and music – wonderful gifts from God! – by sharing these books with them.

The Nativity by Géraldine Elschner. Illustrated by Giotto di Bondone (Minedition, 2015)

This winsome, age-sensitive retelling of the nativity story spans the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary, the birth of Jesus, the angels’ triumphant proclamation, the shepherds’ visit, the arrival of the magi, Herod’s murderous actions, the flight of Jesus’ family to Egypt, and a subtle reference to Jesus’ death on the cross decades later. Only the timing of the magi’s arrival is erroneous, a common occurrence when the Christmas story is retold or performed. In fact, the magi arrived, not at the stable, but later at a house where Jesus, Mary and Joseph were staying.
Illustrated with the frescoes of Renaissance master, Giotto, The Nativity shows young children that the significance of Jesus’ birth was not, and is not, restricted to the first Christmas night, but was the beginning of his painful journey to the cross where he died as our Saviour and proclaimed, “It is finished!”  

     The Dance of the Violin by Kathy Stinson. Illustrated by Dušan Petričić (Annick Press, 2017)

Joshua Bell loved music. When he was young, everything became a noisemaker-instrument of some kind. When his parents bought him a violin and he played it, stories danced in his head, his spirit soared, and the world was filled with dazzling light and colour.
Joshua heard about a competition and insisted on entering it. When his parents agreed, Joshua told his music instructor that he wanted to play a complicated piece. His teacher tried to dissuade him, but finally agreed to allow his young student to tackle the challenging music.
The day of the competition, Joshua’s nerves were frayed. On stage, his fingers fumbled and his performance fell flat. Dejected, Joshua started to exit the stage. But something stopped him. His mind focussed on the music and, filled with courage and hope, Joshua asked the judge for a second chance. The judge agreed. As music danced from Joshua’s violin, he knew that he had never played this well before.
Based on the true story of Joshua Bell, “one of the finest classical violinists in the world,”  this vibrantly-illustrated picture book portrays the magic of music, the perseverance needed to master an instrument, and the truth that retaining one’s love for music is more important than winning any competition.

Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood. Illustrated by Sally Wern Comport (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016)

In Cateura, Paraguay, Ada Rios grew up in a town situated on a landfill. Occupants made a living by sorting through garbage to find salvageable and saleable items. Ada imagined that the garbage trucks that arrived at the landfill daily contained treasures waiting to be discovered. She had no idea how her imagination would prove true.
Raised in a family that cherished music, Ada grew to love the violin. One day, Ada’s grandmother noticed that violin, guitar and cello lessons were being offered free of charge to children. She signed Ada up for the classes led by instructor Favio Chavez. But sadly, there weren’t enough instruments to go around when the class began.
Chavez was at a loss. What could he do so each child could have an instrument, one that wouldn’t be stolen because of its value? He knew that a real violin was worth more than a house.
Then Chavez had an idea! With the help of other in the community, he would build instruments made from items found in the landfill. In time, the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay was born. As their fame grew, Ada and her peers travelled to many places in the world, performing for huge audiences. Meanwhile, they grew in confidence, hope, and knowledge of the world.
Ada’s Violin is the true story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay and is a testimony to the renewing power of God’s Spirit and the healing gift of music. Chavez summed it up, “The world sends us garbage. We send back music.”  

     Deck the Halls: A Canadian Christmas Carol by Helaine Becker. Illustrated by Werner Zimmermann (North Winds Press, 2016)

Based on the tune and cadence of the traditional Christmas carol, Deck the Halls, this playful, fun-filled caper in preparation for Christmas assembles a menagerie of creatures found in the Canadian North – beaver, loons, muskox, reindeer, raccoons, polar bears and many more.
Young children will delight in this joyful romp, either by listening to or singing the lyrics. Gather some kids together around this book and “Make your True North Christmas jolly!”  

Sing, Don’t Cry by Angela Dominguez (Henry Holt and Co., 2017)

Once a year, two children enjoy a visit with their abuelo, their grandfather, from Mexico. Abuelo always brought his guitar with him and sang to the children every night. His songs were accompanied by stories about his life. He taught the children that, if they were sad, they should “sing, don’t cry. Because singing gladdens the heart.”
The children learned that Abuelo had had a difficult life – he and his family had been forced to move from their home, he had suffered a life-changing physical injury, and he experienced loneliness – but each time, he turned to music to rediscover joy and hope.
Based on the life of the author’s grandfather, this simply told story points children to the power of music to help people overcome sorrow and to bind them together. 


About the Author
Children’s picture books share the gifts of song and music

Sonya VanderVeen Feddema, Freelance writer

Sonya VanderVeen Feddema is a freelance writer living in St Catharines, Ont.