JOHNSON, Stephen T. Music Is....illus. by Stephen T. Johnson. 52p. S. & S./Paula Wiseman Bks. Oct. 2020. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781416999508.
PreS-Gr 4–This book blends bright, colorful illustrations and short, catchy rhymes with detailed information about musical styles. As Johnson explains in the author’s note, the text was inspired by an idea found in Langston Hughes’s 1954 book The First Book of Rhythms: “Your rhythm on this earth began first with the beat of your heart.” Johnson offers rhymes that could resonate with young readers. For example, the “Rhythm and Blues” section includes a stanza about the “back-to-school blues,” and “Rock and Roll” details a bouncing game of hopscotch. Johnson’s ambitious attempt to capture the artistry and history of these diverse musical styles in an accessible, knowledgeable format is a solid success. The literal through-line connecting the illustrations and narrative keeps the book flowing, and the careful placement of supplementary information about each musical style allows this text to be read in a variety of ways. Readers can travel through the narrative without diving into the informational pages, or take a deeper read into one of the styles of music, practicing rhythms through the narrative and exploring factual information, before moving onto another style. VERDICT Purchase this colorful invitation into music for classroom and library collections.
–Jen McConnel, Queen’s Univ., Ont.
– School Library Journal, September 2020
From classical to pop, an exploration of 10 Western musical genres with poetic words, images, and short essays.
Classical, Latin, jazz, country, heavy metal, hip-hop, rock ’n’ roll, rhythm and blues, and electronic are the genres amateur musician and award-winning illustrator Johnson has chosen to present. This unusually formatted book has a concertina binding, with one long piece of cardstock folded accordion style. It reads from the front like a picture book. Each spread presents a single genre in both words and pictures. Improvisation is a feature of many musical styles, the writer tells us. It’s also a good word for the poetic text, the scatlike syllables that convey the sounds, and the colors, shapes, and images on the pages. Even the simple text has a sonic verve, with its varied typography. Johnson’s descriptions work: Country is “poignant stories”; heavy metal is “roughened steel blazing a trail of light”; electronica is “liquid sound cascading over an endless sea.” Reading on the reverse side, each spread includes a couple of paragraphs offering extended description and history, a list of the usual instruments, six examples of pieces with their composers or performers, and a quote from someone in that musical world. Adult readers knowledgeable about one genre or another might argue about the choices, but the child audience of readers, listeners, and players will find this a rich resource to explore.
Appealing and informative for a broad range. (author’s note, acknowledgments, bibliography)
– Kirkus Reviews, STARRED, December 15, 2020