August 12, 2013

Listening with open ears

By Kathy Stinson
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Observant child versus oblivious adult: It’s a classic contrast. In Kathy Stinson’s delightful new picture book, The Man with the Violin, the opposition serves as the basis for the story of a mom-in-a-hurry who hears but doesn’t listen and her curious, receptive son—a little boy named Dylan, who’s wise beyond his years and in tune with the world, as sensitive to his surroundings as, well, a violin.

On a winter day, as mother and son make their way through a crowded metro station, Dylan’s attention is arrested by the sound of music. Its source: a nondescript man with a violin who plays with his eyes closed, clearly transported by the tune that issues from his instrument. The sound “makes Dylan’s skin hu-u-mmm,” and he, too, is transported. In one picture, he floats in mid-air, lifted by the song’s power—and surrounded by puzzled onlookers. Dylan wants to linger and listen. He begs his mother to stop, but she refuses. She sweeps Dylan onto an escalator and away.

Later, at home, the unimaginable occurs: Dylan hears the same tune on the radio. When he learns the truth about the man responsible for it, he’s ecstatic. His mother soon realizes that she should’ve taken Dylan’s advice and opened her ears. Together, they share a musical moment in the kitchen—a sweet note for the story’s end.

Stinson’s lovely book was inspired by an anonymous performance given by renowned violinist Joshua Bell in a Washington, D.C., subway station in 2007. Almost all of the busy rush-hour passengers ignored the violinist’s beautiful music—except for the children. As the Washington Post reported, “Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.

Bell himself contributes a postscript to The Man with the Violin, bringing the story full circle.

Dušan Petri?i?’s fanciful illustrations play up the contrast between kid and adult. He portrays the metro as a gray point of transit teeming with intent, focused grown-ups and filled with white noise—a symphony of meaningless sound that takes the shape of jagged, zig-zag lines and spiky lightning bolts. This cacophony literally hangs in the air and competes with the violinist, whose music Petri?i? depicts as a cascading ribbon of color. 

There’s plenty to ponder in this melodious tale. It’s a story that’s bound to get kids thinking—about the importance of listening. And, of course, the power of music.

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The Man with the Violin

The Man with the Violin

By Kathy Stinson
Annick Press
ISBN 9781554515653

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