Passing the Music Down, and The First Music

Passing the Music Down, by Sarah Sullivan and illustrated by Barry Root for children 4-8 yrs.    This engaging book is about traditions and the friendship that forms between a  boy and an old-time fiddle player living in Appalachia.  This true story is inspired by the relationship of two musicians, Melvin Wine and Jake Krack and the bond they form despite their 75-year age difference.  Melvin, a coal minor, was born and raised in West Virginia, where his father, grandfather and great-grandfather had all been musicians.  They passed their music down through their families.   The author has done a lovely job of capturing the spirit and rhythm of Melvin and his music, through her lyrical text.  The illustrations are bold pastel paintings and capture the essence of the story.

A boy from Indiana travels with his fiddle all the way to the hills of Appalachia to hear the old man play his fiddle.  Eager to learn from the man, the boy asks him to “teach me all your tunes?”  For the boy wants to play just like the fiddler.   The fiddler listens to how the boy plays, and invites his parents to pay a visit at his farm where they  play some old-time tunes “older than the towns.”  The family moves nearby so the boy can study with the old man.  They settle deep inside the music creating a bond so strong that the man begins to share his stories with the boy.  The boy develops into a fine musician and travels with the old man playing at American Folk festivals.  As the boy grows into a man, he keeps his promise to the old man, to pass the music down.

The First Music, written by Dylan Pritchett and illustrated by Erin Bennett Banks for children 4-8 yrs.   Pritchett has had a fascination with African storytelling  for years.  He gives 200 storytelling performances a year.  He is the president of the National Association of Black Storytellers.  Prichett’s storytelling takes children to another level filled with rhythm and  sounds.   Again, another way to pass along the history and traditions.   Banks is a master in the use of texture in the oil paintings, which enhance this beautiful storytelling.

The animals living in the west African forest make many sounds.  There are Owls that hoot, hyenas that yelp, parrots that screech, monkeys that chitter and crocodiles that snort.  The frogs sit on their pads in silence.  Everyday more animals join in — an elephant, a crane, a buffalo, a lioness, a hawk — and they play and dance to the sounds each contributes.  The frogs listen and ponder.  Then one morning at day break, a new sound is heard in the forest — Reep-reep-ree!  The frogs have joined the chorus, and realize that when it comes to making music, everyone has something to offer.   And, that’s how every animal in the African forest helps keep the music alive.   This book is alive with sounds, so as you read the story to children, they too can become the chorus and experience the sounds.

My Selections:  I chose these book because in this busy world, our young people are not learning the traditions of their elders, whether it be music, family stories or history.   When meeting with author Greg Mortenson last fall, he commented that when he asked children in Pakistan and Afghanistan if they know their family stories, all their hands shot up.  When he asked the same questions of America students, only a few hands were raised.    So I mention these stories, hoping it will inspire you to share your family traditions and stories with your children.   Encourage them to talk with their grandparents and great-grandparents about their lives.

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

6 thoughts on “Passing the Music Down, and The First Music

  1. This is a beautiful post Pat. I love “Passing the Music Down”, young learning from the aged. I always loved spending my childhood times with my grandparents, my grandmother and I loved spending hours listening and dancing to music, while my step grandfather taught me to fish. I found travelling through Asia how the young children often spent alot of time with the grandparents while parents were working and I am sure they are well aware of their stories.
    “The First Music” sounds very cute and has a very strong message. Thankyou for sharing.


    • Diane,
      I’m so happy you liked the post. I had great fun reading and writing the reviews. I had the first book “Passing the Music Down,” for several weeks, before I accidentally ran across “The First Music” and they made wonderful companion books for my review. I love the passing down of traditions through any means. But, music tugs at my heart. The books are simply beautiful reads. The music and stories of both cultures have always been favorites. I’m glad you spent so much time with your grandparents. I did too and remember stories about their lives as children — after my parents made their transition, I wished I had asked more.


  2. Passing the Music Down sounds like an inspirational biography. I know little of my parents or grandparents’ lives and I believe I am the poorer for it. As you say, Pat, it is a very recent and at the moment very western phenomenon to not have this continuity of story between the generations. Of course we as writers have an opportunity to “pass the music down” too.

    The First Music sounds like a book of great visual and audio appeal for children. I would love to hear Pritchett narrate some of his amassed stories.


    • Joanna,
      I responded to your post, and I just realized it was never published. Passing the Music Down is an inspirational biography. I have traveled to the Appalachian Mountains on many occassions and have enjoyed the energy and stories that are hidden in those mountains. I happened to see a movie on TV a few years ago about a woman who studied Irish music. She traveled to the mountains to hear the unique songs sung by an old woman to a young girl, who was passing the music down. The musician discovered the old woman’s songs came from very old songs known only to Ireland — and they had been lost. She recorded the songs to take back. I found it interesting that the music of the earliest immigrants settling deep in the Appalachian hills, was still preserved in its true form through many generations.

      You would definitely like The First Music. I too would love to hear Pritchett narrate. He has performed at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. This is a great book to use in the classroom — and I didn’t share the sounds.


  3. “They settle deep inside the music” makes shivers go up and down my spine. Mmm, yes. And that bond of music is such a strong, vibrating, living cord. Thank you. What a wonderful sounding book! I have been blessed in my family to have been told some of the stories of the music in our family — beginning with my grandfather singing “Cherry Ripe” as a boy soprano in London. It is so important to hear family stories, to ask questions, to learn while the people are still walking this earth with us. There are so many questions I’d ask my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, my parents now…

    Even in your description of The First Music, I could feel and hear the sounds and the rhythm. It would be fun to both read and act out that book with kids.

    Thanks Pat!


    • Beth,
      I just fell in love with both books, and it took me a while to find The First Music, to write a review that I enjoyed writing. I thought you would enjoy both books and thought of you as I wrote! And, you would enjoy the oil paintings in The First Music, along with the sounds of the forest I did not reveal.

      As you know, my husband’s side of the family is rich with musicians, with his 93-year-old uncle a contemporary American opera and orchestral composer. I have an autobiography he began on his own that contains stories of attending music theory classes led by the great composer Hindemith, with Aaron Copeland. Fortunately, his autobiography is now being written with the help of a published writer, and will include the title of his most famous opera, “The Crucible.” So my husband will have a recorded history of the Ward side of his family. I feel the same way you do — I’ve lost letters written to me by grandmother and I have lost a lot of family history when my parents died– it disturbs me I didn’t I ask more. What little I remember was rich and interesting. Sigh!


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