One of the joys of childhood is being read to sleep by a loved one: a parent, a grandparent, an older sibling. But books aren’t just for sleep, and children’s books aren’t just for children. In this article, we gather ten of the best books on music and sound, presented in developmental order. As much as your children may enjoy them, we recommend keeping a copy for yourself as well.
Brandon Stosuy and Amy Martin ~ Music Is… (Little Simon, 2016; Baby-3 years)
Björk gives her seal of approval to this book, and so do we. Martin’s colorful spreads are a perfect match for Stosuy’s simple, contrasting sentences. If this is Baby’s first music book, it makes a great start, and the thick pages are sturdy enough to be grabbed or perhaps even chewed upon.
Ilo Orleans and Tibor Gergely, Animal Orchestra (Simon & Schuster, 1958; Early Age)
The oldest book on our list is also likely the one most people own; if not, we read it once upon a time in our parents’ or grandparents’ houses. It’s fun to watch each animal choose their favorite instrument, and fascinating to see them all playing together by the end. Some of us still associate these animals with their choices; the most amusing are the pairings of mismatched sizes.
Lynne Ray Perkins, Snow Music (Greenwillow, 2003; Preschool-3)
Snow Music operates as a series of jazz riffs, opening up a world of sound. From onomatopoeia to rhyme, the prose caveats across the illustrated pages. Field recording and Soundscape is one of our seven review categories, and this book makes a fitting introduction to that category of music.
Deborah Underwood and Renata Liwska, The Quiet Book/The Loud Book (Clarion Books, 2010-11, 1-4 years)
The first two parts of a trilogy (followed by The Christmas Quiet Book) explore different facets of sound: first one awake quiet, best friends don’t need to talk quiet … deafening silence loud, applause loud. While music is not the dominant presence, these books offer guides to intentional listening, which is what we’re all about! A later press run adds a board book option.
Grant Snider, What Sound Is Morning? (Chronicle Books, 2020; 2-4 years)
Like the two preceding selections, this is a book about listening. The spread page says it all: “Today is a melody still to be written, today is a time no one’s heard before.” The book is a celebration of noticing, from birds and cats to wind and leaves. The joy is adding one’s personal sounds to those listed here, realizing that each one’s morning produces a unique symphony of its own.
David Litchfield, The Bear and the Piano (Clarion, 2016; 2-5 years)
A young bear cub finds a mysterious object in the forest, and learns that it makes noise. Over the course of years, he teaches himself to play, then leaves his family behind to make it in the big city. But once he’s there, he misses his home … The Bear and the Piano is the perfect gift for touring musicians, but it speaks a universal message that even a non-musician will understand.
Kathleen Krull and Stacy Innerst, M Is for Music (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2009; 4-7 years)
On the surface, the book is a primer, with one object per letter ~ for example, “G is for guitar,” as shown above. But the delight is looking closer, and discovering extra words embedded in the art: Gilbert & Sullivan, groove, gong. While drone and post-rock don’t make the cut, we’re pleased to see experimental music represented, albeit under the letter X.
Margarita Engle and Rafael López, Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2015; 4-7 years)
What do you mean, girls are not allowed to play drums? Yes, this was once the case in Cuba (and other places). But Millo Castro Zaldarriaga was talented and persistent. This is her story, brought to life in a manner that is unapologetic, yet shies from being accusatory. The often fantastical art is a softening blow, focused more on the dream than reality ~ and in reality, the dream came true.
Amy Martin, Symphony City (McSweeney’s, 2011; 3-9 years)
Here’s Amy Martin (M is for Music) again, this time on her own. Symphony City is the story of a girl who accidentally lets go of a parent’s hand on the subway, then weaves her way home by following familiar sounds. The concept may be frightening for little ones, but the overall message is calming, and the city is portrayed as a vibrant, sheltering place.
Jackie Morris, The Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow (Graffeg, 2017; 10 years and up)
The most mature book on our list may also be the most beautiful, especially in the oversized (and still available) original edition. Jackie Morris’ works of art are wedded to elaborate folk tales, one about a land that has not heard music for centuries. The author calls this “a series of lullabies for grown-ups,” and we couldn’t agree more; this is a feast for the eyes and the imagination.