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Classical 101

From Mo Willems To Timbaland: 10 Musical Children’s Books

Nighttime Symphony by Timbaland is one of many children books written for music.
Nighttime Symphony by Timbaland is one of many children books written for music.
Simon and Schuster
Nighttime Symphony by Timbaland is one of many children books written for music.

Some delightful children’s books about music come from surprising sources. Beloved children’s author Mo Willems captures the inspiration of Beethoven and Schubert. Rapper and record producer Timbaland tells a story about the scary sounds of a thunderstorm. And best-selling author Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code) turns his talents to composing!

These 10 fun children’s picture books about music in everyday life will keep your child engaged and entertained. Each book tells a delightful story in energetic language and eye-catching illustrations that make music come to life.

And who knows? They might even bring out your child’s inner Beethoven.

Nighttime Symphony
Written by Timbaland with illustrations by Christopher Myers with Kaa Illustration
(Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Simon & Schuster)

Renowned rapper, record producer and songwriter Timbaland is now also the author of a children’s book. In Nighttime Symphony the scary sounds of a thunderstorm at bedtime – raindrops tapping on windows, howling wind and water rushing in the streets – turn into a comforting lullaby. Vivid illustrations enhance a tender story with an important lesson about the things we let frighten us.

Itzhak: A Boy Who Loved the Violin
Written by Tracy Newman with illustrations by Abigail Halpin
(Abrams Books for Young Readers)

For decades, Itzhak Perlman has been regarded as one of the world’s most revered concert violinists, but his joyful and virtuosic playing is only part of a compelling life story.

Itzhak chronicles highlights of Perlman’s younger years – hearing music on the radio in his family’s Tel Aviv apartment, overcoming significant physical challenges after surviving Polio at age 4-years-old, giving his first public concerts as a 10-year-old violin soloist and launching his international career at age 13 with a performance on the Ed Sullivan Show. The inspiring real-life story of Itzhak shows young readers the magic of persevering even in the face of seemingly impossible challenges.

Written by Mo Willems with illustrations by Amber Ren
(Hyperion Books for Children)

Author Mo Willems narrates a sort of musical butterfly effect – how Beethoven’s music influences composer Franz Schubert, whose music inspires people many years later to form an orchestra, which gives a concert that brings many people together.

When a young girl in the audience hears the orchestra play Schubert’s music, she is forever changed. She dedicates her life to composing and performing music and, when she grows up, gives concerts that change other people’s lives. Because shows a child falling in love with music, but the book’s message extends well beyond music, illustrating how the choices we make have the power to inspire others.

Violet’s Music
Written by Angela Johnson with illustrations by Laura Huliska-Beith
(Dial Books for Young Readers)

Some kids are born with the music bug, and this book’s title character is one of them. Sounds fascinate Violet as she shakes a rattle, makes paper horns to toot all day and even turns a badminton racket into a makeshift guitar. But no one – not her family, not her friends at school – will play music with her. Violet keeps playing anyway. Eventually she learns how to play a real guitar, forms a band and finds community through music – a powerful message.

Jazz Baby
Written by Lisa Wheeler with illustrations by R. Gregory Christie
(Harcourt, Inc.)

Grandparents, parents and baby sing, dance and have a great time – all to the beat of the music they love. In Jazz Baby, Lisa Wheeler’s rhyming verse is as musical as the book’s subject and is perfect for reading aloud. The dynamic lines and unexpected angles in the illustrations by R. Gregory Christie show how much fun music and reading can be.

Wild Symphony
Written by Dan Brown with illustrations by Susan Batori
(Rodale Kids)

From the author of Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code, Wild Symphony boasts an original musical score by Brown and a story told through the sounds and actions of wild animals.

Maestro Mouse introduces readers to birds, kangaroos, kittens, armadillos, wild boars and other wondrous creatures and presents pearls of wisdom, along the way – “Falling down is part of life. The best thing to do is get back on our feet,” “Tomorrow will be here soon enough. Slow down and enjoy today!”

Scan the QR code at the front of the book or download the app at wildsymphony.com to access Brown’s music for the book.

ROARchestra!: A Wild Story of Musical Words
Written by Robert Heidbreder with illustrations by Dušan Petričić
(Kids Can Press)

Kids love animals, have natural instincts for music and can learn new words with enviable ease. ROARchestra! introduces common musical terms through vivid definitions and delightful animal illustrations.

More an illustrated glossary than a storybook, ROARchestra! opens the doors to the language of music. Frenzied billy goats, cheetahs and ostriches illustrate “allegro” as “quickly, swiftly – race, run, fly!” And a choir of elephants, lions, gorillas and parrots define “fortissimo” as “loudly, crashing, roaring, stamping.”

Never Play Music Right Next to the Zoo
Written by John Lithgow with illustrations by Leeza Hernandez
(Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

Among actor John Lithgow’s many books and musical recordings for children, Never Play Music Right Next to the Zoo features a dream-sequence narrative that turns the music-of-the-animals trope on its head. The result is a whimsical tale of bass-playing bison, sax-playing yaks and a bonobo that plays the oboe. Young readers might get so caught up in the zany story and bold illustrations that they won’t even notice they’ve also learned the names of the instruments in the orchestra.

Ketzel, the Cat Who Composed
Written by Lesléa Newman with illustrations by Amy June Bates
(Candlewick Press)

In 1998 Piece for Piano: Four Paws was premiered at Baltimore’s Peabody Conservatory of Music. The event received worldwide media coverage. What made this performance special? The award-winning Piece for Piano: Four Paws was composed by Ketzel Cotel, the foundling kitten of (human) composer Morris Moshe Cotel. Kittens, music and a story so strange it must be true – what’s not to love?

Gloria’s Big Problem
Written by Sarah Stiles Bright with illustrations by Mike Deas, illustrator
(Tilbury House Publishers)

Adults aren’t the only ones who suffer from “what if” thinking. The title character of Gloria’s Big Problem does too, and it keeps her from being able to do the things she loves most, like singing. One day Gloria gets fed up with her problem – portrayed in Mike Deas’ illustrations as an overgrown Grinch-like figure – and she sends it packing. Gloria’s Big Problem teaches some important life lessons – that the fears we don’t face will only grow, and that we really do have the power to stare down what frightens us.

Classical 101 Childrens' Book
Jennifer Hambrick unites her extensive backgrounds in the arts and media and her deep roots in Columbus to bring inspiring music to central Ohio as Classical 101’s midday host. Jennifer performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.