Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (brainchild of Sheila at BookJourney). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.

Last Week’s Review and Miscellany Posts

We’re also inviting everyone to join our Check Off your Reading List Challenge 2014.


Sign up here to join us! Here is the July-September linky. We are also very excited to share that Pansing Books will be giving away copies of Slated by Teri Terry to two lucky CORL participants from July-September.

Carrie Gelson of There is a Book for That is also hosting #mustreadin2014.

Super special thanks to Iphigene for creating this visually-arresting widget!
Super special thanks to Iphigene for creating this visually-arresting widget!

I managed to snag quite a lot of wonderful titles related to our reading theme from our public library and my institution’s library. In truth, I went on a book-borrowing frenzy. As I went through the books, I could see a few subthemes emerging and this is one of them. This is Part 1 of 2 as I would be featuring similarly-themed books for Nonfiction Wednesday.

IMG_4829And the Soldiers Sang

Written by: J. Patrick Lewis Illustrated by: Gary Kelley
Published by: Creative Editions, 2011
Borrowed from the public Library. Book photos taken by me.

The setting of this beautifully-written and gorgeously-illustrated picturebook is the battlefield of World War I between 1914 and 1918. The Afterword indicates that more than 30 countries participated in this war and nearly 10 million soldiers were killed either through illness or during combat. Written in such poetic language as only J. Patrick Lewis can tell it, he featured a fictional narrator from Cardiff Wales, marching with “three hundred gangly innocents” through Belgium to the Western front.


Who else but a poet can say words such as: “five hundred miles of trenches tunneling terror” or “grief arrived on the second hand, by sniper, shell, sleet, and snow.”

The story is inspired by the events that happened during Christmas Eve of 1914 as enemy troops came together in fellowship. In this picturebook, it was the clear and unexpected “sound of a German baritone singing Stille Nacht – Silent Nightthat brought about the unlikely and undreamed-of truce. The fictional narrator, a soldier named Owen, was so moved by the haunting beauty of the moment that he “returned a tenor First Noel.

I put together these beautiful images by Gary Kelley - originally placed one page apart in the book.
I put together these beautiful images by Gary Kelley – originally placed one page apart in the book.

There are no happy endings during times of war. In the same manner that the ending of this picturebook is one that would raise a lot of questions, quiet wonder, and potentially-thoughtful responses from readers.

I learned about this book through our blogger friend Linda Baie of Teacher Dance a few years ago. I found it sometime in 2012 and vowed to feature it here if and when we do have a reading theme about war. The story has never left me. The music leaves an imprint on the soul.

Silent Music: A Story of BaghdadIMG_4882

Written and Illustrated by: James Rumford
Published by: A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, 2008.
Borrowed from the NIE Library. Book photos taken by me.

Ali is a typical boy who loves playing soccer in the streets with friends, dancing, and loud music. He lives in Baghdad. What sets him apart from other kids his age, perhaps, is his love for calligraphy. In this picturebook, music is not created through a voice singing a song or musical instruments playing a certain beat. Rather, it is a depiction of what this ancient art of writing provides Ali:

I love to make the ink flow – from my pen stopping and starting, gliding and sweeping, leaping, dancing to the silent music in my head.


When war broke out in his city in 2003, bombs and missiles flying everywhere, he spent the days of disquiet with the “silent music” in his head:

I wrote all night and the many nights of bombing that followed. I filled my room with pages of calligraphy. I filled my mind with peace.


Ali looks up to his hero Yakut, described in the book to be the most famous calligrapher in the world, who lived 800 years ago and created works of eternal beauty through his distinct writing. The legend says that Yakut fled to a high tower when Mongols attacked Baghdad in 1258. He was able to shut out the war-ravaged realities happening around him by writing “glistening letters of rhythm and grace.”

There is so much to love about this book, not the least of which is the collage artwork, said to be inspired by pictures posted on the Web by photographers and American service personnel in Iraq.  There is also the graceful calligraphy embedded ingeniously in the images: a bird in flight, Ali’s mother’s clothing, the silhouette of a mosque.


In the Author’s Note found at the end of the book, there are further biographical notes shared about Yakut; there is also a comparison made between music and calligraphy:

Part of what makes Arabic calligraphy so beautiful is the fact that many of the letters are joined together. In this way, the words seem to glide across the page in a magical rhythm. The dots and the tall “masts” also add to this rhythm, so that a page of Arabic writing looks like a page of music.

What made this picturebook stand out for me in addition to the breathtakingly unique artwork is how people manage to find their refuge even in times of war and devastation. While we could all whine and gripe about what the world is coming to with so much hatred and fighting, there are still glimpses of beauty, light, and wholeness to be found in the most unlikely places.

This book won the Charlotte Zolotow Honor Book in 2009. James Rumford wrote about his inspiration for the story in his website where you could also read his Acceptance Speech for the Jane Addams Award. He also shared his creative process and how he was able to create such glowing images in the book.

Currently Reading…


Hooray! After four months, I have finished reading the book!

I know that people have varied emotions about this Pulitzer-prize-winning novel, and I can understand the frustration of most readers, particularly in the last few sections of the book. It was a deliberate effort on my part to prolong my reading of this novel, because for one it’s just staggeringly sad, especially in the first few chapters when Theo Decker lost his mother; second, there is beautiful darkness in this book that I had to touch as I read through the pages, that I had to come up for air and read other novels so that I won’t be consumed by it, because it has that unrelenting power to pull you in. I must have read more than ten full-length novels in the interim as I was allowing Theo’s voice to be absorbed by my skin. Third, I did not want the lyrical language to end, and I just wanted to stay in that world as long as I possibly can without forgetting the plot twists altogether. I have written down quite a few quotes from the book. Hopefully, I get to share my thoughts with you in a longer review when we have an arts-related theme soon.


Another yay! My daughter and I enjoyed a read-aloud of Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo very much. As seemingly-absurd and unlikely the narrative twists are, we both had so much fun reading it, and screaming and laughing, and coming up with various distinct voices for each of the character. I loved pronouncing Blundermeecen, while my daughter loved screaming “This malfeasance must be stopped!” as well as “Holy Bagumba!” Among all the voices though, I loved coming up with William Spiver’s geeky-nerdy voice.


I also finished reading these two immensely powerful books this past week. I will be featuring … I never saw another butterfly… Children’s Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp 1942-1944 with a foreword by Chaim Potok for Poetry Friday in the coming weeks. I will be sharing my thoughts on Alice Walker’s Overcoming Speechlessness: A Poet encounters the horror in Rwanda, Eastern Congo, and Palestine/Israel for Saturday Reads. Do watch out for it.


I have yet to start on these two books. I hope to do that this week: Then and Now by Morris Gleitzman.


My adult book club (Saturday Night Out for Book Geeks) is also discussing Aunty Lee’s Delights: A Singaporean Mystery by Ovidia Yu this Saturday. Hope to finish reading it before then.



Reading Challenge Update: 148, 149 (25)

10 comments on “[Monday Reading] The Power of Music in Times of War in PictureBooks (Part 1)

  1. Your posts always makes me want to go on a book borrowing binge with friends. In fact, I think I just may do that! And, I love finding relationships between the books I read.


  2. Don’t forget Morpurgo’s The Mozart Question for your music/ war list. It’s great for my reluctant 8th graders who need to read a Holocaust book.


  3. As always, Myra, your post is chock a block with great choices. I especially am interested in Silent Music. Bagdad was one of the places I always longed to go – alas, it probably won’t happen. Thanks for sharing with us, I always look forward to your book posts.


  4. You have such a wonderful list of books here. I definitely want to go find And the Soldiers Sang and Silent Music. I am really interested in reading The Goldfinch as well. Have a great reading week!


  5. Oh, Myra, my heart lit up reading about yours and your daughter’s read-aloud of Flora & Ulysses! Holy Bagumba is RIGHT! 😀 I love everything Kate writes 🙂

    And as far as music, during war for sure, but also any time of life, it can have great impact and effect. I know it can help lift my mood and I’ve actually witness it tame a savage two-legged beast! 🙂


  6. Oh I loved Flora & Ulysses! I hope you and your daughter had a blast reading it :). I think I giggled more than I should have when reading it alone. Awesome post! There are so many good books!


  7. Silent Music has been on my radar and now even more so. Thanks for sharing it here. I must get a copy and read this book. So pleased that you and your daughter loved Flora & Ulysses! I read this aloud to my children as well. What fun!


  8. I loved reading about how you and your daughter shared Flora & Ulysses. So special. Thanks for writing about it.


  9. Enjoy Then/Now if you get to them, they broke me, brilliant series. LOVE Flora and Ulysses… So thrilled that Silent Music was featured, was obsessed with that book a few years back…


  10. I love sharing “Silent Music” with my students. The read aloud always gets slowed down as everyone wants to work on calligraphy, and we all learn to write our names in Arabic that same week too. Such a lovely story.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: