2021 saw the publication of many thoughtful and inspiring picture books of different types. One book in particular defies categorisation and yet is one that deserves a place in every single primary school. Once Upon A Tune: Stories from the Orchestra by James Mayhew is wonderful; stunning, evocative illustrations paired with beautiful storytelling. This is a gorgeous book and perfect for introducing children to the world of classical music.
Six traditional stories from many lands that inspired classical composers are retold in James Mayhew’s beautiful storytelling style with its lyrical phrasing ensuring that this book would be a treat to read aloud. We enjoy the mayhem of the magical broom in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, sail the seas with Sinbad in the stories told by Scheherazade, and learn about the hero William Tell. Although the stories are famous these versions full of magic, love, bravery, epic journeys and adventures are written with a young audience in mind and have a fairy tale quality to them.
The multi-layered illustrations are sumptuous with collage of printed papers, rubbings, fabric, lace and music manuscript brought together in an exquisite style. The changing tones used for the different stories captures both the essence of the stories and the countries from which they originate. The bright skies and cheerful colours of Northern Europe contrast with the sweeping richness and vibrancy of Persia. It is beautifully done and would encourage the reader, or listener, to linger and look for longer.
This stunning book is truly a labour of love, its publication was delayed and it was worth the wait. The last two years have been hard for the arts with theatres shut for a long period, musical concerts cancelled and galleries inaccessible for many. Children have missed out on something of great value and James Mayhew has brought the world of the arts to them in one complete and appealing package. Once Upon A Tune: Stories from the Orchestra provides great cross-curricular potential for schools and I think a copy of this book should be in every primary school library. There are helpful musical notes at the end of the book where you can find out more about the stories and music plus James’s recommend recordings to download and listen to.
I have had the privilege of attending some of James Mayhew’s concerts in the past and I love how he demystifies classical music for children, and for families too. The combination of magical stories, stunning painting and live music is an unforgettable experience. When ever I hear Scheherazade on the radio now I instantly see James painting in my mind! Once Upon A Tune has brought some of that experience to an even wider audience. The arts are important for so many reasons and the effect they have on our well being is just as important as their value educationally and this lovely book does so much to convey that importance. James has created a Spotify list to accompany the book, and there are teaching notes created by James Mayhew and Siu Chui Li available on the Otter Barry website. All of this enables schools to bring the magic combination of stories, art and music into the classroom. What an achievement and what a special book.
I should like to thank the publishers, Otter Barry Books, and Catherine Ward for providing my review copy. Once Upon a Tune: Stories From the Orchestra was published in September 2021 and is available to purchase online at Bookshop.org.
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