Here are seven great reads for young music lovers, both fiction and nonfiction. These books feature—in unusual ways— musical theatre, young players of instruments, and the great eras of the musical past You’ll encounter a wheelchair actor and a time-traveling jukebox. You’ll also discover a life-changing family secret. A not-so-extinct tiger. Tales-out-of -school about the Beatles!
Just out from Abrams this month is THE CHANCE TO FLY, by Tony-Award winner Ali Stroker and acclaimed author and playwright Stacy Davidowitz. Ali Stroker made history in 2019 as the first actor in a wheelchair to appear on Broadway. 13-year-old Nat Beacon, her main character in the THE CHANCE TO FLY, also gets around with a wheelchair. Nat is obsessed with Broadway musicals. When her family moves from California to New Jersey, she auditions for a kids’ production of Wicked. She not only gets into the ensemble, but she gets to know the cute male lead. Then a week before opening night, things get really challenging! Kristin Chenoweth, Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress and singer, says of this story: “The perfect read for any dream chaser . . . You’ll realize how unlimited your possibilities are.”
BROKEN STRINGS, by Canadian children’s writer Eric Walters, and Katy Kacer, award-winning writer of Holocaust fiction and nonfiction, (Puffin Canada, 2020). It is a story about the power of music. Shirli Berman, the best singer in her Jr. High, auditions for the lead in their production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” She gets the part of the old Jewish mother instead. But she decides to make the best of it, so she rummages through her grandfather’s attic for props. She shows him an old violin she finds, and he becomes angrier than she has ever seen him be. Shirli is determined to find out the reason, and an old family secret comes to light.
JUKEBOX by Nidhi Chanani (First Second, 2021) is a time-bending magical family quest story. Shaheen’s father disappears, leaving behind only a mysterious juke box, some old vinyl records, and some notes on music history. When Shaheen and her cousin Tannaz try to figure things out, they turn to the jukebox, which begins to glow. It transports them back through to other eras of music, decade after decade. Will they find Shaheen’s father?
For some nonfiction time travel through the great eras of music, read TURN IT UP!: A PITCH-PERFECT HISTORY OF MUSIC THAT ROCKED THE WORLD (National Geographic Kids, 2019) It traces the origins of all genres of music, from tribal, to classical, to folk, to jazz and blues, to rock, to rap and hip hop. Other topics include instruments, sounds, and styles. There is a wonderful glossary of musical terms at the end. (Not as ‘new’ as most other titles in this post, TURN IT UP! is a timeless treasure for young musicians and music lovers).
In Michelle Kadarusman’s MUSIC FOR TIGERS (Pajama Press, 2021), Louisa, a passionate young middle school violinist, has to go off for the summer to stay with eccentric Australian relatives. There she learns about a mysterious place called Convict Rock, a sanctuary her great-grandmother set up for the supposedly extinct Tasmanian tigers. Convict Rock is now under threat from a mining operation. The last tiger must be moved, but it hasn’t trusted any human since her great-grandmother. The more she learns, the more Louisa thinks her own music may be the key to saving the tiger.
Twelve-year-old Rose Brutigan and her twin brother Thomas couldn’t be more different. In GIANT PUMPKIN SUITE by Melanie Heusler Hill (Candlewick, 2021), serious-minded Rose focuses on winning the upcoming Bach Cello Suites competition, Her brother is just trying to grow a giant pumpkin in their neighbor’s yard. An accident causes Rose to reexamine her priorities and connect with the community. Subplots abound in this well-told coming-of-age story.
THE BEATLES COULN’T READ MUSIC? is Dan Gutman’s latest in the series, WAIT? WHAT? (Norton Young Readers, 2023), illustrated by Allison Steinfeld. With Gutman’s famous madcap humor, the sibling narrators of this unique biography, Paige and Turner, reveal little known facts of the rock stars’ lives, from their childhoods through their years of world fame as a group. Both accurate and hilarious.
Apologies in advance if I’ve added to your already tottering must-read pile!