Kid Lit Frenzy hosts my favorite reading challenge, Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday. Visit her blog to discover more wonderful nonfiction titles.
Susan L. Roth’s collage and cut paper illustrations for Parrots over Puerto Rico would be on a top 5 picture book illustration list for me (how I love creating random top 5 and top 10 lists in my head!), so I was very happy to discover a new-to-me book by her at the library, Do Re Mi: If You Can Read Music, Thank Guido D’Arrezzo. Roth both wrote the text and created the illustrations for this nonfiction story of how nearly one thousand years ago, Guido D’Arrezzo created the system of musical notation that we still use today.
It occurred to Guido when he was quite young that it would be so much easier to teach and learn music if the sounds of the song could be written down and shared in much the same way that the words could be written down and shared. A system where music didn’t have to be memorized to be learned has clear advantages, but Guido encountered much resistance throughout his life to his newfangled ideas. The choirmasters, musicians, monks, and other religious figures he worked with believed that what was good enough for them was good enough for everyone else learning music. Choirmasters may have legitimately worried that they’d be out of a job if music could be written down, but as Guido explained, “They’ll have different things to do.”
This is the story of an obsession. Maybe every story of discovery, change, and creativity has to be a story of obsession:
Guido thought about writing down the sounds of songs during his lunches and vespers, his late nights, his walks in the woods. He thought during homilies and lessons. He thought while planting in the garden, comforting the sick, mending the monks’ robes. Even when he was busy teaching children to sing, and even when he himself was singing, Guido was always thinking about a written language for music.
This is also a story of failure, because Guido failed again and again for many years to develop a system of notation that would work.
Finally he figured out how to do it using a system of lines and spaces. Since adults were so resistant to his ideas, he decided he would teach a group of children to read music to show how easily his system could be learned.
Roth’s illustrations are brilliant: varied, textured, emotional, they bring this story to life. The writing is also very strong. This would make a fine mentor writing text.
There is some useful back matter, including an Author’s Note with more information about Guido’s life; a Glossary of musical terms; and a brief Bibliography.