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Notes from a Children's Librarian

Notes from a Children's Librarian: Musical Biographies

A powerful message runs through all these texts: find the thing you’re passionate about and spend your life doing it.

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.


A powerful message runs through all these texts: find the thing you’re passionate about and spend your life doing it. Biographies are part of the Grade 5 Reading curriculum, but students from Kindergarten to Grade 6 will be inspired by these stories.


Book Cover As Glenn as Glenn Can Be

As Glenn as Glenn Can Be, by Sarah Ellis and Nancy Vo, takes the reader on the journey of child prodigy Glenn Gould. The Canadian pianist has been written about and had movies made about him but this book finds a really beautiful way to bring Gould to a younger audience. This book is about acceptance of neurodiversity, with young Glenn's quirks cleverly presented as his likes and dislikes. For instance, he loves roaring around the lake in a speedboat at his cottage, with one hand conducting an orchestra in his head, but he doesn’t like fishing—“He feels sorry for the fish.” Glenn's interests become clearer, he likes animals but not people. He becomes a professional musician at age 15, playing concerts around the world, however, his fear of germs and wanting people to just remain still at the end of a performance, rather than chaotically clapping, causes him to revert to making his now-famous recordings instead. The afterword tells us some facts about Gould, with a few hints for kids to find out more about this intriguing artist.


Book Cover Meet Buffy Sainte Marie

Meet Buffy Sainte-Marie, by Elizabeth MacLeod, illustrated Mike Deas, showcases the multi-talents of Buffy, and how her career was full of firsts. She sang about Indigenous issues and residential schools long before anyone else, spoke Cree on Sesame Street in the late '70s, and was the first Indigenous person to win an Oscar. Not only did Buffy invent a multimedia computer project to teach kids about Indigenous culture, she created computer art, wrote picture books and won numerous awards. She changed the way the movie industry hires and views Indigenous actors, and used her music to protest—war, human injustices, mistreatment of the environment. This book is a tribute to a great Canadian.


Bok Cover Mr Mergler Beethoven and Me

Mr. Mergler, Beethoven and Me, by David Gutnick, illustrated by Mathilde Cinq-Mars, is a (true) sweet story about a new Canadian girl from China who meets Daniel Mergler, a Montreal piano teacher who has been teaching for over 50 years. He recognizes something in her, offering instruction for free. Under the gaze of the Beethoven bust on his piano, the girl struggles to learn, but by the end of her 26 lessons with Mr. Mergler, he deems her his “best student” before gifting her the statue of Beethoven.


Book Cover STar the Bird Who Inspired Mozart

Star, The Bird Who Inspired Mozart, by Mireille Messier, illustrated by Matte Stephens, is a whimsical and colourful account of how a bird became Mozart’s musical companion. As the (also true) story goes, Mozart, whilst passing a pet shop, heard the "unremarkable starling" singing his latest concerto and rushed in to buy the bird. This book follows the bird’s musical life before and after becoming Mozart’s muse of three years, and how the starling might have learned the notes (and other inspiring sounds) by eavesdropping on the neighbourhood. (Kindergarten to Grade 3)


Book Cover Oscar Lives Next Door

Oscar Lives Next Door: a Story Inspired by Oscar Peterson’s Childhood, by Bonnie Farmer, with Marie Lafrance, is the story of the young artist, as told by his neighbour Mildred. Oscar can pick out an F-note in a nearby train whistle, and plays as if letting a magic genie escape from his trumpet. But when Oscar gets TB, he loses his ability to blow. Discouraged, he takes apart his horn bit by bit, looking at the scattered pieces of his talent. Mildred helps bring him out of his slump by wondering if the genie now lives in the piano, thus, launching Oscar’s transition to pianist. A beautifully told story, full of metaphors and similes.


Book Cover Joni a Lyrical Life

The illustrations in Joni: The Lyrical Life of Joni Mitchell, by Selina Alko, mimick Joni’s flowing lyrics. Bored with school, Joni’s ability to see truth in things is expressed across the arts — painting, dancing, piano-playing. At age 10 she contracts polio and is confined to a hospital bed. Unable to move, her voice screams out, and once out of the hospital, her determination to do something with her life results in guitar-playing and writing poetry. She moves around playing in coffee houses until landing in New York City with contemporaries such as Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young and Mama Cass. The author explains her personal connection to Joni’s art at the back of the book.


On her first day as teacher-librarian, Julie Booker was asked by a five-year-old if that was her real name. She's felt at home in libraries since her inaugural job as a Page in the Toronto Public Library. She is the author of Up Up Up, a book of short stories published by House of Anansi Press.