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Welcome, dear readers, to this guest post! I am thrilled to bring you this article from Ryan, the founder and lead father of Dad Suggests, where he provides wonderful insight into his own fatherly thoughts on kids books, board games and more. Below, he discusses three of his favorite board books about music and passion. Let us know what you think in the comments below!
Guest Post: Three Brilliant Kids Books About Music
I’ve long thought that one of my most important duties as a father is to insulate and protect my kids from the world’s tendency to steer children away from their passions. I’d consider it a job well done if my kids honestly and truly pursue their interests for their entire lives. But, as a society, we’ve become experts at systematically crushing creativity and originality and childhood wonder, and that’s not a tradition I care to participate in one bit.
From a very young age, we love to ask kids what they want to be when they grow up. And, for a while, we’re willing to entertain whatever answers they come up with. You want to be the first cowboy inventor who paints a painting on the moon? Go for it kid! Imagination and passion and happiness are all very important for our kids – until they aren’t of course.
Because, at a certain age, most of the adults in a child’s life start singing a different tune entirely. Teachers and relatives are asking the same question – what do you want to be when you grow up – but now, deep down, they expect different answers. They don’t actually want to hear what kids enjoy anymore. All of the sudden, they really just want you to say doctor, lawyer, engineer or systems analyst for a global trucking chain.
And it doesn’t take much of a detective to figure out which types of passions kids are being steered away from. It’s the artistic jobs of course. Which is silly, of course, because when machines are doing every job on the planet, art is the only thing we’ll have left to do for ourselves.
Kids are smart, and they see very clearly what the adults around them consider important. And let’s just say that principals and superintendents across the country aren’t worried about losing their jobs because the art and music programs aren’t performing up to standards. It’s the standardized test scores that really “matter.”
But that’s where the real tragedy begins. All over the world, and especially in the US, kids are encouraged to obsess over their math and English scores – forced to focus for hours on subjects they may or may not enjoy one bit. Many kids begin to define their very worth through these test scores – often forgetting and pushing aside the personal ways they used to define themselves. And who can blame them, when everyone around them stops praising them for their passions, and constantly chastises them for their academic weaknesses.
There’s an old saying that goes, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it’s stupid.” And that saying means a lot to me as a teacher and as a dad. I’m passionate about encouraging a life of pursuing the things that truly mean something to you. And whether those passions turn into a career is not the point – we can’t forget who we are and what we love.
We as parents and teachers need to be more intentional about how we signal the things that we value. Passion, creativity, happiness, kindness, empathy, originality, being yourself – these are some of the things that matter to me as a dad. And I’ve always deeply believed that supporting and championing art is a great way to help pursue those values. And an appreciation for music has always been a personal favorite vehicle in this house.
I love encouraging our values with our kids through the magic of picture books. So it’s probably no surprise at all that this topic is also one of my favorite themes in children’s literature. I’m a real sucker for any stories about being yourself and following your dreams. And there’s something about pursuing an interest in music that always makes for an effective vehicle and a beautiful metaphor.
Lots of picture books follow the formula of kids loving music and needing the support of those around them to allow them to be themselves. Music speaks to us and matters to us in a personal way that’s difficult to put into words, which is a very apt way of describing the mysteries of the things we love. And music can be a stand-in for any passion a child might have.
And because the emotions and values they evoke mean so much to me as a dad, some of these books also happen to be some of my favorite picture books of all time. And when you combine these meaningful themes with gorgeous illustrations, I think you have a recipe for something special. So I wanted to share a few of these musical picture books that have left a lasting impression on us.
Pokko and the Drum
Written and Illustrated by Matthew Forsythe
Pokko’s parents buy her a drum, and they immediately regret their decision. A similar story plays out across the world every day with the notoriously regrettable and loud first drum set. But that’s what makes it an effective and relatable allegory. Pokko’s parents eventually come to see how talented she is, and how she makes an impact on those around her with her music.
But, trust me, this book is amazing for so many more reasons than the themes we’re focusing on here. Pokko and the Drum is hands down one of my very favorite picture books of all time. Matthew Forsythe has quickly become one of my favorite authors and illustrators. This book has a lot of subtle, dry humor, and Forsythe’s illustrations come in a distinctive style that really speaks to me. They’re some of the best out there.
Not only does the book have a nice message at its heart, but it’s delivered with great style and terrific humor. The funniest bit of dark humor is when Pokko starts banging her drum outside, and other animals quickly line up behind her to form a marching band – until a fox eats one of his fellow band members. “No more eating band members or you’re out of the band!”, says Pokko. For the right reader out there, Pokko and the Drum has the potential to be an all-time favorite.
For more about Pokko and the Drum, make sure to check out this featured article on Dad Suggests.
Music for Mister Moon
Written by Philip C. Stead and Illustrated by Erin E. Stead
Philip and Erin Stead have long been a family-favorite picture book duo, and we always keep a sharp eye out for their new projects. Music for Mister Moon was released in 2019, and it’s a very dreamy story about a girl named Harriet Henry that only wants to play her cello in the privacy of her room.
But when she throws her teacup out of her window, she accidentally strikes the moon and it falls to the ground. She then proceeds to go on quite the wonderful adventure with the moon – complete with dragging him around in her wagon and buying him a hat from a hat-making bear. It’s absolutely delightful and a joy to look at the images Erin Stead has crafted up.
And I can’t help but notice the difference between Harriet’s desires and what her parents say. They point out how wonderful it will be when Harriet is older and plays her cello in an orchestra in front of a large audience. Won’t that make her happy? Almost as if the point of her playing the cello is the pursuit of a career opportunity.
You can probably interpret this one in many ways, but Harriet works up the courage to play her music for her new friend Mister Moon by the end of the book. So there’s a slight nod to overcoming your fears here. But that image of her playing her song “for no one but Mister Moon” is still a beautiful and solitary one. And I can’t help but imagine it’s actually a celebration of playing the music for ourselves.
Khalida and the Most Beautiful Song
Written and Illustrated by Amanda Moeckel
This picture book means a lot to me, because it tackles these themes of society squashing the artistic passions of our kids better than just about any other book I’ve ever read. Khalida and the Most Beautiful Song is about a girl who loves playing the piano. Quite frankly, it’s who she is. She has the music inside of her, and she wants to – needs to – get it out.
But those around her literally stand in her way of pursuing her passion. Her parents send her back to bed when she wants to play too late. Her teachers send her back to class when she tries to play the piano at school. Even when she has a piano lesson she has to play things she doesn’t want to. But, thankfully, she finally gets her chance – when she sees a piano in the park.
And when she starts to play, it has an immediate effect on those who hear her. For a few moments, everyone in the park forgets about everything else. They forget about their upcoming meetings, and how they are bullied in school – all they can hear is Khalida’s beautiful song. Talk about your all-time great champions of the power of music in our lives. And clearly it’s a great example of why it matters so much that we let kids chase their passions.
For more on Khalida and the Most Beautiful Song, make sure to read this featured article on Dad Suggests.
So, whether your goal as a parent or teacher is to inspire your kids to chase their dreams, or to discover the beauty and the power of music together, I hope you find a new book to love together on this list. And here’s to a future filled with beauty and being themselves.
Which of these books have you already discovered? Make sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Ryan is the lead father behind Dad Suggests. His mission is to “help you find content that will inspire your kids and spark their imagination and their creativity.” He provides honest opinions of the many books, kids’ games, and many other childhood memorabilia that is available. His reviews are heartfelt, honest, and contemplative of the society in which we raise our children today. For more insight, start by checking out the monthly kids book lists or his board game reviews.