Zin! Zin! Zin! Let the Overture Begin

Our Musician-in-Residence Week is about to begin, a beloved tradition that will fill the school with “noises, sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not,” as Caliban says in The Tempest. To introduce your child to the symphony of instruments they will be listening to, we have a razzle-dazzle picture book to recommend.

In lavish verse and pictures, Zin! Zin! Zin! a Violin gives children an idea of what they’ll see and hear at a classical performance. Giving a musical twist to a traditional counting book (solo, duo, trio, quartet …), author Lloyd Moss introduces ten instruments, from the “slender, silver sliver” of the flute to the “bright and brassy” French horn. A longtime host at a classical-music radio station, Moss uses verse and a little onomatopoeia to describe the sounds each instrument makes. The clarinet has “steely keys that softly click” and the oboe is “gleeful, bleating, sobbing, pleading, through its throbbing double-reeding.” He even greets the “big bassoon that plays down low” with “Hello, Grumpy!”

To capture the propulsion and movement of music in visual terms, illustrator Marjorie Priceman takes to heart Duke Ellington’s idea that “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.” In her animated paintings, the violinist’s coattails curl like an bass clef; the gyrating, bell-sleeved trumpet player looks like she jumped out of a Toulouse Lautrec poster; and a few of the musicians simply levitate in space, floating like the figures in Marc Chagall’s murals in the lobby of the Metropolitan Opera. Even the lines of text buckle and wave.

The pictures evoke not only the elegance of a concert hall—with fringed velvet curtains, chandeliers and the maestro in a tux—but also the emotional and sonic power of an orchestra, as many different instruments come together in a single musical outpouring. The two spirited cats wandering through the rehearsal evoke the emotional impact of music on its listeners. They shut their eyes contentedly for the trombone solo, frenziedly hunt while the French horn blasts and dance rapturously when the entire chamber group is playing. “The strings all soar, the reeds implore, the brasses roar with notes galore. It’s music that we all adore. It’s what we go to concerts for.”

It’s a literary performance con spirito—and a Caldecott Honor book—so don’t be surprised when, after the final bows, your child demands an encore.

Play it again, maestro!