Classical music is fun


For two years, Molly Dunham Glassman has written about children's books in The Evening Sun. Her reviews of books, plus notes of local interest, will now appear weekly in The Saturday Sun.

Classical music is kind of like carrots. Until kids find out it's good for them, they love the stuff.

So leave them alone, and let kids discover for themselves the sensation of being swept up by a symphony. Here are a few books that can help build on that enjoyment. No one needs to know there's a tape of Beethoven, not the Beastie Boys, in Junior's Walkman.

* "Meet the Orchestra," written by Ann Hayes, illustrated by Karmen Thompson (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $13.95, ages 4-8). At first glance, this looks like a gimmick: Dress a bunch of animals in formal wear, give them instruments and pawn it off as educational.

But the watercolor-and-pencil paintings are understated and fun if a panda in a bow tie and tails puffing on a bassoon can be understated -- and the text is even better.

The bass clarinet's "low, slow notes may remind you of clouds drifting across the moon or a snake swaying to a snake charmer's music." And, "If kettledrums give you the roll of thunder, the cymbals give you the flash of lightning."

* For some silliness, check out "Hildegard Sings," by Thomas Wharton (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $10.95, ages 5-8). Hildegard is a hippo who sings in the chorus of the opera until one day, the star falls ill and Hildegard is asked to sing the lead.

Of course, Hildegard loses her voice. Her friends try stuffing her with food, taking her to an astrologist, giving her hot tea with honey and lemon, and stuffing her with more food. Nothing works until, just before the curtain rises, one friend hands her a box. Out jumps a mouse who runs up her sleeve and down her dress, and she lets out a Aaaaaa! that brings down the house.

Yes, it's trite. But some kids like trite.

* Adults and children alike will chuckle at "The Philharmonic Gets Dressed," by Karla Kuskin, illustrations by Marc Simont (Harper Trophy paperback, $3.95, ages 4-8). In a masterful collaboration, Ms. Kuskin's eye for detail and down-to-earth tone combines with the cartoon-like paintings of Mr. Simont, who won the Caldecott Medal for "A Tree Is Nice," and deserved another for "Many Moons" a few years ago.

Ms. Kuskin follows 105 people -- 92 men and 13 women -- as they get ready for work in the symphony. Kids are thrilled to see grown-ups taking showers, shaving, pulling on underwear, hooking up bras and snapping on suspenders. It's all very innocent; don't send out the censors!

First published in 1982, this is a classic. So is "The Dallas Titans Get Ready for Bed," a football expose by the same team.

* The story of Mozart's life is almost as captivating as his music. At an age when most are mastering Nintendo, Mozart was playing sonatas for the emperor in Vienna. When he was 6, the story goes, he played so well, the emperor covered the keyboard of the harpsichord with a cloth and had him play the sonata again. He didn't miss a note.

Mozart's mother, father and sister packed up and traveled across most of Europe with the child prodigy, who wowed royal audiences as well as the pope. Despite his genius, however, Mozart spent most of his adulthood in debt. He died at 35, leaving behind 626 compositions by one estimate.

"Mozart Tonight," by Julie Downing (Bradbury Press, $15.95, all ages) has Mozart telling his own story. Fans of "Daniel's Gift," written by Baltimorean M. C. Helldorfer and illustrated by Ms. Downing, will welcome another book of Ms. Downing's lovely watercolors. Her research is solid, geared toward an 8- to 12-year-old audience.

"Letters to Horseface: Young Mozart's Travels in Italy," by F. N. Monjo, illustrated by Don Bolognese and Elaine Raphael (Puffin paperback, $7.95, ages 10-14) is an account of Mozart's 14th year. In 1769, he and his father toured Italy, and these are the letters Mozart might have sent to his sister, whom he affectionately called "Horseface."

They aren't actual letters. Mozart's father did write hundreds of letters home during their Italian trip, and Mozart wrote a few himself. Mr. Monjo has culled information from the letters, as well as several biographies. The result is very readable. As we see the world through Mozart's eyes, he comes across as a personable, funny kid.

Only a few times does Mr. Monjo lose that tone. Of the San Carlo opera house, 14-year-old Mozart supposedly writes: "You have come to the very inner heart of the murmuring rose, where you may become as drunk as you please on golden melody." The pen-and-ink sketches lend a travelog feel.


Kevin Henkes is a prodigy of another sort. When he was 19, he quit college and went to New York with his portfolio, trying to find someone willing to publish his children's books. It worked. Since 1981, he has created some of the most endearing mice around.

His books include "Chester's Way," "Julius the Baby of the World," and "Chrysanthemum," and his latest is a novel called "Words of Stone." He'll be in Baltimore Saturday, Aug. 29, at the Children's Bookstore, 737 Deepdene Road, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and at Junior Editions in Columbia Mall from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

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