September 29 – It’s National Piano Month

The Bear and the Piano by David Litchfield picture book review

About the Holiday

Invented around 1700, the piano was not an immediate hit with composers and performers. It took several decades before musicians embraced its versatility, and over the next 150 years the piano underwent many changes in tonality, size, and shape. In the 19th century the instrument became larger and more powerful to accompany soloists in concert and on tour with large orchestras. At the same time, individuals and families took the piano to heart – and hearth – as it became the primary source of home entertainment and piano lessons a must for all children. The United States became a major producer of pianos, with factories in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. New technology in the twentieth century provided other types of entertainment that came to toke precedence over the piano, and domestic sales declined.

Today we celebrate the beauty of the piano—both in shape and sound—and all the musical artists who play and compose for this storied instrument.

The Bear and the Piano

By David Litchfield

 

One day a bear cub happens upon a piano in a clearing in the middle of the forest. Wondering what it could be, he approaches and lays his paw on the keys. The strange thing goes PLONK!—such an awful sound. The bear cub leaves, but is drawn back again and again for days, months, and years. Over time the bear grows up and learns to play the piano. The music is beautiful and transports him to strange and wonderful places.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bear-finds-piano

Image copyright David Litchfield, courtesy of davidlitchfieldillustration.com

Other bears soon gather in the clearing to hear the “magical melodies” the bear plays. The bear is happy entertaining his friends. One night a girl and her father hiking in the forest come to the clearing. They listen and then tell the bear what his strange instrument is. They invite him to move to the city with them, where he will be able to play grand pianos for hundreds of people. The music he will play and hear “will make your fur stand on end,” they tell him.

The bear is conflicted. One on paw he knows that leaving the forest will make the other bears sad; on the other he longs to explore the world, to play the piano better, and master more intricate music. He decides to go with the girl and her father.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bear-in-big-city

Image copyright David Litchfield, courtesy of davidlitchfieldillustration.com

In the city the bear is a sensation! He quickly becomes a celebrity with his name on marquees and playing to sold-out crowds. The bear records albums that go platinum, he appears on the covers of magazines, and wins awards. His experience is everything he could ever wish for. But deep in his heart there is another longing. He misses the forest and his friends there.

He decides to leave the city and rows a boat across the expanse of water to his old home. Excitedly he runs to the clearing, but when he arrives everything has changed. His piano is gone and there are no friends to greet him. The bear worries that everyone is angry at him for leaving, or worse—that they have forgotten him.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bear-playing-for-friends

Image copyright David Litchfield, courtesy of davidlitchfieldillustration.com

Suddenly an old friend peeks around the trunk of a tree. The bear hails him with a hearty “Hello!” The other bear remains silent, however, and then turns and runs into the trees. The bear follows, plunging deeper and deeper into the forest. Suddenly he stops. In front of him is a sight that makes his fur stand on end.

There, protected in the shade of a tree and surrounded by the albums, magazines, t-shirts, and other mementos of the bear’s success sits the old piano. The bear’s friends have not forgotten him and they are not angry. They are proud and welcoming. The bear tells them all about his adventures then sits down to play again—for the most important audience of all.

David Litchfield’s very original and moving story is such a wonderfully conceived microcosm of the changes life brings. Stumbling upon a talent, cause, or inspiration; opening up to other influences; and acting on hard decisions are all part of growing up. These concepts are honestly and sensitively presented in The Bear and the Piano, and the reassuring ending brings comfort as well as a tear to the eye.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bear-giving-concert

Image copyright David Litchfield, courtesy of davidlitchfieldillustration.com

Litchfield’s touching illustrations—rendered in gorgeous hues of browns, greens, yellows, and blues—brim with yearning and mystery. The piano sits in a misty glow, silent and draped with vines, when the cub discovers it. While the bear grows and learns to play, the air clears and the colors become brighter. When the bear moves to the city, the pages glint and swirl with the glow of marquees and concert halls announcing his enormous achievements. But as he sits on a rooftop one night contemplating his life and looking out toward his old home, the lights around him are the elements of normal life—lamps in apartment windows, stars, and the moon glimmering on the water. His nostalgia to be home will resonate with both kids and adults.

The Bear and the Piano makes a wonderful gift for any age—especially as a graduation or new-job gift—and is a must-have for anyone’s personal library.

Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016 | ISBN 978-0544674547

To learn more about David Litchfield, his books, and his artwork, visit his website!

While I take a few personal days during this month, I am reposting earlier reviews updated with new links, interior art, and book trailers.

Watch the beautiful The Bear and the Piano book trailer!

National Piano Month Activity

CPB - Record Bulletin Board

Make a Record Chalkboard Bulletin Board

 

Do you play the piano or another instrument? Would you like to make a record some day? Why wait? In this fun craft you can create your own record bulletin board—and even create your own label art! While this record may not spin on turntables around the world, it will drop in a more important place—your very own room!

Supplies

  • Printable Record Label for you to design
  • Foam board, or a corkboard at least 12-inches x 12-inches square
  • Adhesive cork
  • A 12-inch round plate, record, or other round object to trace OR a compass
  • Chalkboard paint, black
  • X-acto knife
  • Paint brush or foam paint brush
  • Mounting squares

Directions

  1. Cut a section from the adhesive cork a little larger than 12 inches by 12 inches
  2. Affix the cork to the foam board
  3. Trace the 12-inch round object onto the cork/foam board OR use the compass to make a 12-inch circle
  4. With the x-acto knife, carefully cut out the circle (adult help needed for children)
  5. Cut out a ¼ -inch circle in the center of the record bulletin board
  6. Paint the cork, sides and inside the spindle hole with the black chalkboard paint. Let dry
  7. Print the label template and design your own record label
  8. When the paint is dry, glue your label to the center of the bulletin board
  9. Hang your bulletin board with the mounting squares
  10. Decorate!

Picture Book Review

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