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The Power of Music


The Music Educators National Conference has designated March Music In Our Schools Month. Observe this special month with two new picture books that celebrate the power of music!

This week, Education World takes a look at two delightful new books. The books, The Cello of Mr. O and Mole Music, reflect on the beauty and art of music -- and examine the courage and imagination of their main characters.


Book Cover Image In The Cello of Mr. O, a little girl describes her life in a country at war. The streets, she tells us, are strewn with dust and broken glass. Food and water are scarce. Telephones and electricity seldom work. Schools are closed, and frequent bombings keep everyone close to home.

"Here we are," the girl says, "surrounded and under attack. I am afraid almost all the time. I am angry almost all the time."

The one bright spot in an otherwise bleak week is the arrival of the supply truck, on Wednesday afternoons at 4 o'clock. Then, all the residents of the apartment building gather in the square to wait for their supplies -- and talk. "It feels like a party, being outside with so many people for a change," the girl says.

Mr. O, the once-famous cellist who lives in the apartment building, also goes to the square every Wednesday to pick up his supplies. He doesn't talk or visit with his neighbors, though. In fact, Mr. O isn't very neighborly at all. When he isn't waiting in line for his supplies, Mr. O stays in his apartment, plays his cello -- and hollers at the children to be quiet.

Then, one dark Wednesday afternoon, a bomb destroys the supply truck, and everyone knows that from then on "nothing will happen to make even one day better than the others."

Everyone is wrong!

The next Wednesday, at exactly 4 o'clock, Mr. O brings his cello to the square, sets up a chair, and begins to play. "How he plays, our Mr. O! As if he were on the stage of a grand, warm hall, playing for people who will throw flowers. As if he were not alone in the center of a deserted square in a besieged city, where even a relief truck will no longer come."

Mr. O doesn't play just on Wednesdays, however! Every day at 4 o'clock, the square resounds with the sounds of Bach. The music of the cello makes everyone feel less afraid and less angry -- until, one dark day, a bomb destroys the cello. The next day, at exactly 4 o'clock, Mr. O goes to the square, sets up a chair, and begins to play -- the harmonica! "And the courage of the harmonica player makes us less afraid," the reader is told.

The Cello of Mr. O is a simple story simply told, but its messages are powerful and universal. The prose reads like poetry, and the rich watercolor illustrations beautifully convey both the darkness of war and the brightness of the music. You -- and your students -- will want to read it over and over and over again.


Book Cover Image Mole Music by David McPhail, is exactly what a picture book should be:

The story is simple. Mole -- because he is a mole -- spends all his time alone, digging tunnels underground. It's a good life and Mole is happy. One day, however, he realizes that something is missing. He decides that the "something" is beautiful music. Mole orders a violin and sets out to learn how to play. The first time he draws the bow across the strings, he makes "a horrible screeching sound." The second time, the screeching is a little less horrible. After a week, Mole can play a note. After a month, he can play a scale. After years and years of practice, Mole can play beautiful music on his violin.

The illustrations are rich and detailed. Mole's underground home is a delight -- from the amply stuffed chair to the vintage TV topped with rabbit ears to the oversized showerhead in the miniature bathroom. Because the perspective of the drawings allows the reader to see above and below the ground at the same time, we are able to watch Mole's first musical efforts startle two unsuspecting birds and shrivel the roots of a tree. The drawings, infused with both subtlety and humor, are meant to be looked at and enjoyed again and again.

The words and pictures -- together -- tell the story. A true picture book should meld words and pictures; neither element can tell the story alone. Mole Music is a perfect example of that classic picture book maxim. The horrible screech of the violin would never have been as horrible without the image of flying feathers and fleeing birds. The passage of time -- and Mole's dedication to his music -- could not have been as clear without the cobwebs thickening on the television antenna. At the end, Mole dreams that his music can change the world and well, you really have to see it to understand!

Mole Music doesn't have any bells or whistles. Nothing pops up or makes noise or requires the reader to interact. It's simply a delightful book -- just like the ones you remember!

The Cello of Mr. O and Mole Music are available in bookstores everywhere. If you are unable to locate them, ask your bookseller to order them for you or contact the publishers directly.

  • The Cello of Mr. O, written by Jane Cutler and illustrated by Greg Couch, is published by Dutton Children's Books, a division of Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, 345 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014.
  • Mole Music, written and illustrated by David McPhail, is published by Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 115 West 18th Street, New York, NY 10011.


  • Music For Little People
    Music for Little People offers Children's Music, Children's Story Tapes, Children's Instruments, Music for Toddlers, Toddlers and Children's Educational and Multicultural Music CD's.
  • Music Notes
    An Interactive Online Musical Experience is an informative and educational webpage. It is designed to teach people about many aspects of music.

Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 2000 Education World

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