Music Is… by Stephen T. Johnson

Music Is… by Stephen T. Johnson. Paula Wiseman, 2020. 9781416999508

Format: Hardcover, accordion style

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3

What did you like about the book? This attractive book offers two levels of definition to the concept of music. In the first half of the book, double page spreads show images associated with a genre along with a poetic prose definition and a rhyme composed of onomatopoeia. For example, for country music, the images are of a banjo, harmonicas, a cowboy hat and a red barn. In the second half, on the verso of the accordion folded pages, Johnson defines each genre with a few paragraphs of the history, artists, instruments and a list of six pieces that exemplify the genre. The writing is succinct and does a good job of synthesizing the genre. Classical, Latin, jazz, country, heavy metal, hip-hop, rock and roll, rhythm and blues, electronica and pop are the styles covered.

Type fonts and color change throughout the book to complement the genre. Johnson excels at designing visually engaging spreads.

Anything you didn’t like about it? Despite the sophisticated design of this book, it feels sterile to me, with no people depicted anywhere. I also feel that it’s more a survey of American music rather than music in general, which bears mentioning. There is no mention of folk or sacred music. The rhymes, although fun to read, sometimes stereotype the music – “bales of straw, have you seen my Pa?/Yodel-ay-EE! Yodel-ay-EE_OOOO!” (country) or seem random to me, or maybe are personal to Johnson – “Boom-diddy-boom-diddy-boom-diddy-boom-diddy” (electronica). Also, I just have this image in my head of the accordion pages spilling off a small classroom desk onto the floor, because reading the second half of the book makes it take up a lot of space.

To whom would you recommend this book? For ages 5-10. This could be a resource to have in classrooms when discussing writing about music.

Who should buy this book? Elementary school and public libraries

Where would you shelve it ? Nonfiction 781.6

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Stephanie Tournas, Robbins Library, Arlington, MA

Date of review: January 30, 2021

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