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The Man with the Violin by Kathy Stinson — Book Recommendation

manwiththeviolinOn Sunday, I happened to hear a fabulous radio documentary on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) about the picture book The Man with the Violin by Canadian author Kathy Stinson, about a social experiment violinist Joshua Bell was involved in a few years ago. I was so delighted and moved by the documentary – and by the book – that I just had to share it with you! Don’t let the fact that it’s a picture book stop older readers from checking it out. It is COOL!

Title: The Man with the Violin

Author: Kathy Stinson (with a postscript by Joshua Bell)

Illustrator:  Dušan Petričić

Publisher: Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 2013.

Genre: Picture book, fictionalized account of a real event

Audience Age: 4 to 8 and older

Themes/Topics: Music, paying attention, noises and sounds

Opening Sentences: Dylan was someone who noticed things. His mom was someone who didn’t.

Synopsis: One day, as Dylan is dragged through the streets and the subway by his mom, he hears beautiful music being played on a violin somewhere in the cavernous space of the subway. “All the notes swirl and sweep around the blur of people rushing here and rushing there.”

Dylan tries to get his mom to stop, but she’s too busy, in too much of a rush. At home, Mom rushes to get the spaghetti cooked for dinner, until… from the radio bursts forth beautiful music. It’s the man from the subway. Dylan recognizes the sound immediately. To find out what happens, you will need to read the book.

This story is based on a real experience from 2007, when the great violinist Joshua Bell, dressed like an ordinary street musician, took his 300-year-old Stradivarius down into the subway in Washington, D.C. and began to play. Hundreds of people rushed by intent on their own agendas. Often, children wanted to stop – but like Dylan, they were dragged away. This inspired Canadian author, Kathy Stinson, to write what she imagined about how one of those children might have felt.

Dušan Petričić’s illustrations are perfect for Kathy Stinson’s words, and for the emotions inherent in the story. Most of the people are shown in gray wash over white. What Dylan notices is touched with color. The music played by the man with the violin swirls in colorful whorls over the pages, while the noise of the subway and of daily life is depicted in jagged black lines, perfectly evocative of the clash between the noise of the hubbub and the beautiful sounds of the violin.

The book is enhanced by Joshua Bell’s “postscript” in which he tells what it was like for him that day, and speaks of his belief that “the world would be a better place if every child’s innate appreciation for music were fostered both in school and at home.” To that I say a resounding YES!

This book is one of the finalists for the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award. Check this link to the awards page on November 6th to see if it wins! and click the link now to read about the five finalists.

Activities/Resources: There is an excellent 11 minute documentary on the CBC radio website in which Kathy Stinson reads some of the book, Joshua Bell talks about the experience and plays some of his music, and children talk about how they would have reacted if they had been in the subway that day. Kids can read the book, listen to the documentary, and think about how they would react. Here’s the link to the documentary.

A great activity would be to listen to some violin music (you can get CDs of Joshua Bell playing glorious music at the library, or you can purchase his music on iTunes or other sources). While kids listen to the music, have them think about the pictures the music makes in their minds, or the stories it tells. Younger kids might prefer to get up and dance to show how the music makes them feel, or draw pictures — or kids of any age could even make up their own songs!

On Kathy Stinson’s website, there are many blog posts about this book. Any of them would make great discussion starters for kids. Here’s one of them: What Does the Man with the Violin Really Care About?

You can also see an author video on the publisher’s website (on the left sidebar).

Joshua Bell’s website gives the opportunity to listen to excerpts some of his wonderful music, and tells all about him and his music, including an upcoming PBS special about his work with YoungArts. Here’s the link about the special and here’s what YoungArts is.

Availability: Readily available at your local (or online) independent bookstore or other book source.

Every Friday, bloggers join together to share picture book reviews and resources, thanks to author Susanna Leonard Hill’s brainchild, “Perfect Picture Book Fridays.” Susanna then adds the books (and links to the reviews) to a comprehensive listing by subject on her blog. Find the entire listing at her “Perfect Picture Books.” On Friday, I’ll be linking this post to Susanna’s blog.

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  1. I had heard about this experiment, but I love how it’s been turned into a bigger experience, one that can be shared by anyone who reads the book or listens to the documentary. Thanks for highlighting!

    1. You’re welcome, Jilanne! I was delighted when I heard the documentary on the radio on Sunday, and just HAD to share.

  2. I have seen the video of Joshua Bell many, many times. Each time I thought that this would make a great children’s picture book. I love that the story has been told and it is a child who stops to listen. Want this book for me.

  3. I would LOVE to read this book! I heard about the experiment a while back and thought it was so cool, and so believable that kids would notice and adults would be too caught up in the daily grind to pay attention. Thrilled to be adding this to our list, and going to try to get it to my library ASAP! 🙂

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