Even though you have turned off Christmas FM for another year, you might find it hard to stop humming Jingle Bells or Feliz Navidad. But don’t worry, we have the books to help you!
Music is such an important part of a little one’s life: we sing to them to help them sleep, we sing to them to comfort them, we burst into song with them when we’re happy … and of course the sound of our voices is the very first music they get to hear. Listening to music has lots of benefits for a child’s sense of wellbeing; it can help with their attention span, sound and pattern recognition and all sorts of pre-literacy skills. And where there’s music, dancing is bound to follow!
You will find an infinity of books that make music for babies and toddlers. Some of our favourites include the Listen To … series illustrated by Marion Billet (published by Nosy Crow): Listen to the Dance Music, Listen to the Classical Music, Listen to the Music from Around the World. The snippets of music are high quality and the illustrations warm and toddler-friendly. The Drum, by Ken Wilson-Max and Catell Ronca, is another top choice for the age group, but this time you and your little one will be composing and performing your own music.
Readers of 3–6 will enjoy Ed Vere’s Mr Big, a story about the power of music (in this case jazz) to bring people together. For slightly older music lovers, the Story Orchestra series by Jessica Courtney Tickle and Katy Flint explores well-known musical masterpieces through story and features extracts you can listen to on every page, a great way to bring to life Carnival of the Animals, The Four Seasons or Swan Lake. For those who like finding out about real people and facts, the Little People Big Dreams series by Maria Sanchez Vegara is now featuring a range of musicians from Josephine Baker to Elton John via Prince and Dolly Parton. For a historical overview that will fascinate readers of age 4+ and have them dancing to your reading, try Once Upon a Rhythm by James Carter and Valerio Vidali and follow it up with Mick Manning and Brita Granström’s The Story of Music for a look at iconic artists, movements and moments (age 6+).
Older readers might like to enrol at the School of Music by Meurig Bowen, Rachel Bowen and Daniel Frost, where a bunch of music-mad teachers will take them through classical music in forty fun and lively ‘lessons’ (ages 8–12). And for anyone wondering about the life-affirming power of music, read Sonam and the Silence by Eddie Ayers and Ronak Taher, a poetic and important tale set in Taliban-ruled Kabul where music is forbidden (8+).
As the old man in that story says, ‘There is music everywhere, in the wind, in the earth, in the trees. But you can only hear music if you listen with all your heart.’ So listen up everyone!
Written by Juliette Saumande (@juliettesaumande), a children’s book writer and professional bookworm whose latest title, My Little Album of Dublin, is illustrated by Tarsila Krüse and published by The O’Brien Press.
The Drum by Ken Wilson Max and Catell Ronca, Hardback, Tiny Owl Publishing, ISBN 9781910328309
The Drum introduces the youngest of listeners to the magic of drums and beating out a rhythm. With minimal text, it’s an invitation to you the reader and the listener to start drumming, clapping, moving, shaking, dancing! Don’t be afraid to make up your own songs as you beat out a tune on a table or on your belly: your audience will love it! The illustrations are full of vibrant colours with a diverse cast of characters wearing clothes with interesting shapes and patterns. And the final surprise at the end of the book should be an absolute treat with your little one! (Age 0–3)
Once Upon a Rhythm by James Carter and Valerio Vidali, Hardback, Caterpillar Books, ISBN 9781848578449
This gorgeous book will have you on your feet dancing to the powerful rhythm of its rhyming text and the many sound effects it effortlessly carries. Hear, feel and act out those BANGs and TWANGs and YEAHs as you follow the music made by humans right back to its beginnings: back to nature and back to prehistoric times. You will learn about instruments, styles and ways of making music (solo, in a band, a choir … ) that span millennia and continents. The striking illustrations are warm and burst with energy, and definitely invite the young listener to join in the rhythm of life! (Age 4–8)
The Story of Music by Mick Manning and Brita Granström, Hardback, Franklin Watts, ISBN 9781445163666
This brilliant, highly illustrated book takes a whistle-stop tour of music throughout the ages, from 40,000-year-old bone flutes all the way to K-pop! Each double page covers an era or a style with clear, simple text, humorous illustration and period documents that really help ‘show the music we hear but don’t see’. The ‘Listen’ box on each page suggests artists and tunes to check out and this really helps widening the geographical scope. With keen attention to gender balance in the artists presented and the sense that there are no ‘high’ or ‘low’ forms of music, this is highly recommended! (Age 6–10)
Sonam and the Silence by Eddie Ayers and Ronak Taher, Hardback, Allen & Unwin, ISBN 9781760634872
This poignant book follows seven-year-old Sonam in Taliban-ruled Kabul where music is forbidden. When Sonam meets an old man playing the rebab, a new world opens up to her: one of joy, hope and deep connectedness, a world she wants to inhabit, no matter how dangerous it is. With beautiful, delicate illustrations that feel both exotic and universal, Sonam will spark many conversations with your young reader and stay with them for a long time. (8–12)