Music from the Sky — Perfect Picture Book Friday

9781554981281_p0_v1_s260x420Title: Music from the Sky

Author: Denise Gillard

Illustrator: Stephen Taylor

Publisher: Toronto: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi, 2001, 2011

Genre: Picture book, fiction

Audience Age: 4 to 8 years

Themes/topics: Music, flutes, intergenerational interaction, grandfather/granddaughter relationship, nature, traditional crafts

Opening Sentences: Early morning. Shhh! No one is up but Grampa and me. I sneak down the stairs. Creak, creak, creak. “Come on, girl. Put on your boots.” “Where are we going, Gramps?” “Going to make a flute,” he says.

Synopsis: The unnamed main character knows what a flute looks like, she’s seen one at a concert. She’s even tried one. How can Grampa make one? Even though she thinks it’s impossible, she would love to make music like the music she’s heard in the sky on a clear summer day. Together she and Grampa go out walking to find just the right branch that he can make into a flute.

The story is simple, the stakes aren’t high, but the result is satisfyingly “right.” Through the sample spreads available on the publisher’s website, you can see how the illustrations add life and emotion to the simple text.   The relationship between grandfather and granddaughter is heart-warming and real. Although not explicitly stated in the story, the book is set in a rural Nova Scotian African-Canadian community.

Activities/Resources: The most obvious activity to accompany this book is to make a flute. Although making one from a wooden branch is likely beyond the skill level of most of us, there are instructions available online, and there are websites that highlight this traditional musical form, such as The Sound of Trees.

More accessible for children is making a flute out of a cardboard tube or out of a drinking straw. The latter can also be used as a science experiment, linking music and science.

During the month of February, as we commemorate Black History Month, (and all through the year, of course) this book can also be used as a springboard to learn more of the history of people of African descent in Canada. Learn Quebec has activities and lesson plans available on their website as does Black History Canada.

Availability: Readily available in paperback.


Every Friday, bloggers join together to share picture book reviews and resources, thanks to author Susanna Leonard Hill’s brainchild, “Perfect Picture Book Fridays.” Susanna then adds the books (and links to the reviews) to a comprehensive listing by subject on her blog. Find the entire listing at her “Perfect Picture Books.”


22 thoughts on “Music from the Sky — Perfect Picture Book Friday”

  1. Oh I think this is going to be a good read, Beth. I’m already imagining them going to just the right wooded area, finding just the right piece of wood so she can make music. Thanks for this one.

  2. I like quiet but poignant stories. How cool that it’s about African-Canadians too; I don’t think there are enough stories about people of African descent in Canada. I’d only met two during the 17 years I lived in Vancouver.

    1. Most people of African heritage in Canada have come recently (as in, during their own lifetime) from the U.S. or from Africa or elsewhere — there are some groups both in the Maritimes and in the prairies and elsewhere, whose history in Canada goes back one or two hundred years. You’ve made me decide to go on a quest for books about African-Canadians!

    1. I’d love to hear a handmade flute like this. I think it would sound more like a recorder than a regular flute. Thanks, Catherine!

  3. Knew this was your review before I clicked on the title. This sounds like an endearing book about a relationship between a girl and her grandfather. Love that the bond is through music. Is the flute made from a reed? Great selection!

    1. Thanks, Pat. Actually, although a reed would make a good flute, this one is made from a tree branch. I don’t really know how he hollowed out the middle, although one spread shows the various stages of whittling.

  4. This sounds beautiful – and thanks for the link to the publisher’s site. One of my greatest joys in life has been to accompany my daughters in music. We all play piano, but my oldest has a beautiful voice as her instrument, and my youngest also plays violin and viola. And my oldest has even played the recorder with me (a simple flute to learn on and you don’t have to develop the embouchure.) Music, even just singing silly songs together is a wonderful thing for families to share.

    1. Thank you, Laura! Love all your words about music with family. I think the flute in this story would be much like a recorder.

    1. Thanks, Sue! It is a lovely book. It’s not evident from the story that it’s set in Nova Scotia, but the info on the back cover makes that clear.

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