by Meredith Flory
It is tempting to think of literacy and reading as a single skill set. However, when I was teaching, we spent a lot of time as a staff thinking about how a student’s ability to read bled into other subjects. If a student was behind in reading, he/she would also have difficulty reading the textbook for other subjects. Reading isn’t just identifying the words on the page, but comprehending and extracting information from what is read. As children develop their intellectual curiosity, reading helps them pursue other interests and subjects. But the reverse is true as well. An interest in another subject enhances reading skills, and a desire to comprehend or communicate on a subject can encourage adjacent skill sets.
For instance, we know that the practice, discipline and teamwork required for playing a musical instrument or singing in a choir is often a boon to academic performance. A study carried out by the University of British Columbia and published in the Journal of Educational Psychology in 2019 found that students who participated in music courses were performing the equivalent of one year ahead of their peers in core subjects.
March is Music in Our Schools Month (MIOSM®), and a perfect time to advocate for access to music programs and classes in our district. This month is also a good time to incorporate different musical-related topics in our homes, classrooms and libraries.
Stories that take us to the Theater. I was excited to find that children’s book author, Jack Prelutsky, wrote verses to go with the famous symphony The Carnival of the Animals in 2010. Other authors have taken on the famous piece Peter and the Wolf with picture books accompanied by recordings. This includes versions by Janet Schulman (2004) and Maestro Classics— a company that has a full classical music series of books, activities and recordings for families to experience the symphony from home. For older readers with interests in musical theater or the symphony, there are behind-the-scenes books. Thomas Schumacher’s book for Disney, How Does the Show Go On? exposes different parts of stage production using photographs from Disney music productions. Broadway HD is a streaming service with actual stage production recordings of plays and musicals.
Musician and Composer Biographies. Selected biographies about musicians and composers can help encourage children to learn about music history while reading non-fiction. Scholastic has a series called Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Composers. The Who Was?, Where Is? and What Was? series for middle graders have several music-related titles. Their list is available at whowasbookseries.com, and a Netflix series accompanies the books. Several educators recommended books about musical movements which foster discussions about culture and geography. Harlem Stomp! A Cultural History of the Harlem Renaissance and Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay are great starting points.
Music Lessons. For small children, there are several picture books that introduce instruments, genres of music and basic music theory. Many come with music recordings to play with the book. You can purchase books with CDs, check online for recordings of readings, or remember that most public library children’s sections have audiobooks available. I love The Composer is Dead (2009) by Lemony Snicket, with music by Nathaniel Stookey. The book’s accompanying audio employs Snicket’s familiar deadpan and whimsical spooky way into the roles of different instruments, composers and conductors of an orchestra. Many publication companies release books to introduce small children to instruments or music lessons with text and push buttons. We got our daughter the Usborne Percussion book before providing drum lessons. For teens who have an aptitude for music, you might consider purchasing a small instrument along with How To books for road trips or summer vacations.
Music as a Theme. Many books and movies capture music’s magical way to express emotion and history. My daughter and I loved watching Kubo and the Two Strings. John Lithgow, the famous actor, has written a children’s book entitled Never Play Music Right Next to the Zoo (2013). Echo, by Pam Munoz Ryan, is a Newberry award-winning chapter book that tells the story of a magical harmonica. Books such as Listen to My Trumpet! (An Elephant and Piggy Book) use an instrument to teach skills like kindness. A good online source for book suggestions is Book Riot. It has a list of novels for teens who love music including the award-winning After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson and book-turned-movie Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan.
This article appears in the March 2020 issue of Augusta Family Magazine. Did you like what you read here?