Tales in Tune:  Music and Picture Books

Fusing the delights of music and story is a powerful way to teach basic concepts as well as explore deeper ideas and emotions.  Over my nearly 30 years of teaching young children, I’ve set a LOT of knowledge to simple tunes: the names of continents, oceans, countries and states, math concepts, simplified steps of the scientific method, and much, much more.  Adding an unexpected musical component to learning piqued my students’ interest, sparked their imaginations, and for many created paths of memory and understanding that I would not have been able to convey otherwise. Music opens up exciting new paths to understanding both story and song, feeding creative inspiration and critical thinking in new ways that delight both children and adults.

The titles below perfectly fuse music and words in a variety of ways to introduce important lessons and key knowledge.  We invite you to explore these titles and consider how music and story have enhanced and enriched your life, and the lives of the children around you.

Singer, songwriter, and children’s creator Zain Bhikha lends his talents in the best of ways to Muslim-centered Kube Publishing’s bright and resonant titles for young children.  For both Bhikha and Kube Publishing, the mission is to convey to young children important teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, using bright melodies as the key tool.  The result?  Toe-tapping success in giving Muslim (and non-Muslim) children a deeper understanding of the foundations of Islam. Start the exploration–and the singing–with Pizza in His Pocket and then be ready for The Monkey, the Cow, and The Wolf: The Song Book which comes later this spring to North America.

Songs carry identity and tradition from generation to generation. From Kalaniot Books, The Melody, by Oded Burla, translated from Hebrew by Ilana Kurshan, and illustrated by Assaf Benharroch, the passing of the Torah’s importance to Jewish life as well as belief, greets each new member of the tradition, a lullaby from birth and a guiding song through their days. The story depicts the Torah itself as a melody that was once in search of a singer until, thousands of years ago, the Jews took it up as the laws to be sung.

Melody book cover
Sounds Good cover

Gecko Press introduces young readers to the world of musical instruments. In Sounds Good! Discover 50 Instruments renowned author/illustrator Ole Könnecke uses humor, instrument facts, and histories to engage young audiences. Follow the QR code to the recordings created by Hans Könnecke to hear the rich and varied world of musical instruments.  Yes, the musicians here are debonair animals. Each one seems remarkably suited to the instrument the author and illustrator has assigned!

How about a book about a musician featuring his music and a stellar read-aloud by a professional performer? Listen to Live Oak Media’s Trombone Shorty, written by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews himself and performed by Dion Graham, with a soundbed of the author/musician’s own New Orleans sound. The package includes the picture book, with Bryan Collier’s illustrations, making this a complete experience of picture book biography, musical performance, and a reading that honors both. (By the way, the link at the title takes you to a review that includes a sample of the audiobook.)

How Do Birds Sing a Duet? cover

When the overlapping trills and chirps of birdsong reach grownup ears, our response is almost always delight.  And for children? Birdsong—and everything else birds do—also inspires plenty of questions, leading us to Flowerpot Press’ curiosity-quenching How Do Birds Sing a Duet?, written by Clayton Grinder and intricately illustrated by Srimalie Bassani. Part of the publisher’s How Do series, this title is packed with plenty of bird facts and trivia, woven together with informative and hilarious illustrations.  Whatever avian question the next burst of birdsong might inspire in your young ornithologist, this book has the answers!

From Tiger Tales comes a rockin’ and rhymin’ tale of a badger with oh so gnarly musical dreams. Enter Heavy Metal Badger by author and illustrator Duncan Beedie who introduces readers to a determined hard-rocking, weasel family member badger in search of one thing—a place where he and his music can be accepted, and maybe, just maybe, truly belong.   It is this message of staying true to oneself and one’s dreams that makes this tale resonate with readers of any age who have ever felt misunderstood for simply being themselves. 

Can music be part of a life when hearing is diminished or even absent? In a new story from Lantana Publishing, we meet a girl who, as her mother loses her hearing, joins her in Listening to the Quiet, by Cassie Silva and illustrated by Frances Ives. In this warm parent and child exploration of the new world into which the mother is moving–a story based on the author’s own childhood–there is still a place for music. Readers of all ages will be touched and also inspired by the bridge the daughter builds when her class performs a song for a parental audience.

Listening to the Quiet book cover

What tune plays your song?


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