In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Books that come with music

Dear Aunt Debbie,

We will have to check out some of those coloring books.  I'm starting my Christmas list now....

I said recently that I'd identify the book that Michael was reading to Eleanor in this picture.  The book itself is new to us, but the story and music behind it have become a staple in our house over the last several months.

Peter and the Wolf came into our lives when my mom told Eleanor (who is now taking ballet classes) about once dancing the part of the wolf in a performance.  The pictures of my mom being caught around the waist by Peter's rope hung for years in Grandma and Grandpa's hallway, and I always found them fascinating.  Eleanor was intrigued, and pretty soon after that, we checked out the Disney cartoon version on YouTube.  The second we put it on, Isabel was hooked.  Amazed by the wolf, entranced by the music.  They were both a little scared, too, mostly by the wolf's slavering jaws, but it's Disney, so there's a happy ending.

Isabel's interest prompted us to buy the Leonard Bernstein version of the music.  Isabel became truly obsessed.  We listened to Peter and the Wolf at least three times a day for most of the summer.  At the beginning of the recording, Bernstein presents the instruments playing each character in the story as a sort of quiz: "And what's that old bassoon doing? Right, it's Peter's grandfather.  You really know this piece, don't you?"  Oh yes, Leonard Bernstein, we do.

For Isabel's birthday, my parents found a gorgeous illustrated version of the story, which comes with a CD: Sergei Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf, illustrated by Peter Malone.  The story is largely the classic one: Peter goes wandering out of his house into the fields, though his grandfather tells him not to.  The duck wanders out too, and play-fights with the bird; the cat appears and tries to eat the bird; Peter's grandfather sends him back inside.  Then the wolf appears.  The wolf chases everybody, eats the duck, and is ultimately captured by Peter, with the help of the bird.  Hunters come and march the wolf off, and the whole thing ends with a parade.

I love the illustrations in this version: they have a very Russian feel to them, and remind me of Vladimir Vagin's gorgeous drawings in The King's Equal.  The text has been sanitized a little: the wolf eats the duck here, but at the end he convinces the hunters that he'll be good, and they agree to let him go (!), and then he feels bad, so he coughs the duck up.  Not like any wolf I've ever heard of, but okay.  The grandfather is also a little nicer: in the Bernstein version, he's grumpy to the end, complaining at the parade about what might have happened if Peter hadn't caught the wolf.  Here, he marches along proud of Peter.

I'm a big fan of Leonard Bernstein's voice, and after so many times through it, far prefer his creepy ending, with the duck's quacking still audible from inside the wolf's belly, as well as his slight upper-crust accent, to the narration on the book's CD.  Still, the music is wonderful -- by turns playful, dramatic, and narrative.  It bears listening to five thousand times.

Love, Annie

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