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Cello Making in Three Picture Books

Looking for more gift ideas? Here are three wonderful books about cello-making and instruments.

Cello Making in Three Picture Books

The Voice of the Wood

  • Author: Claude Clément
  • Paintings by Frédéric Clément
  • Publisher: ‎Dial; First Edition (31 March 1989)
  • Language: ‎English
  • ISBN-10: ‎0803706359
  • ISBN-13: ‎978-0803706354
  • Suggested reading age: ‎8 – 10 years
  • Suggested grade level: ‎3 – 4

A Venetian luthier makes a cello from the wood of his favorite tree. When it is complete, a famous cellist tries it and finds both humility and magic.

This is a beautiful book for reading aloud to young children or for elementary readers to explore on their own. Frédéric Clément’s paintings illustrating the book are gorgeous. The luthier’s connection with the tree and nature, as well as with instruments, really resonated with me. I love how he made a magical cello from his favorite tree—one in touch with nature.

The craftsman loved that tree. As he rested in its shade or gazed out the window into its branches, he could hear a symphony of birds singing, leaves swaying, and boats gliding by. No violin in his shop, no concert in Venice, could match the beauty of that music.”

Unfortunately, the tree died, but

the old craftsman knew what he must do. He would take that wood and build his masterpiece, a cello as much in tune with the music of nature as his old friend the tree had been.”

Cellist in The Voice of the Wood

The famous cellist plays the magical cello in The Voice of the Wood. Painting by Frédéric Clément.

My one disappointment is that even though the paintings are so beautiful, the cellist’s technique and cello are depicted so inaccurately. Artistic license is one thing, but especially in works for children, I want these details to be accurate. Children notice everything. Presumably, the artist is unaware of how cellos (and cellists) work. But this oversight can still be made into a learning opportunity. Young cellists could be asked, “What’s wrong with the way this famous cellist is playing the instrument?”

Despite my organological issues with a couple of the images, I love this book, especially the connections among the luthier, his instruments, and nature. I highly recommend this book, especially as one to read aloud with very young children learning to play the cello (or other string-family instrument).

Music in the Wood

  • Author: Cornelia Cornelissen
  • Photographed by John MacLachlan
  • Publisher: ‎Delacorte Books for Young Readers; First Edition (1 May 1995)
  • Language: ‎English
  • ISBN-10: ‎0385311672
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385311670
  • Suggested reading age: ‎8 – 9 years
  • Suggested grade level: 2 – 3

This book is a cross between a photo essay and a children’s book. It chronicles Marten Cornelissen making a modern baroque cello, from blocks of wood to a finished instrument. His English Springer Spaniel, Willie, is with him every step of the way. In addition, the original edition includes a CD, so you can hear cellist Roel Dieltiens playing the completed instrument.

I enjoyed this book both for the photography and the story. As the daughter of an amateur instrument maker and someone who has been around craftspeople for many decades, there is still something magical about seeing the belly and back of a new instrument completed and then seeing the whole instrument “in the white.” Adding the dog’s reactions (or non-reactions) was also a lovely touch.

“…wide, curled shavings cover the workbench and spill onto the floor and the violin maker’s dog.”

Willie, the English springer spaniel photographed by John MacLachlan in Music in the Wood

Willie, the English springer spaniel photographed by John MacLachlan in Music in the Wood.

My only issue with the book is the definitions at the end. Most are great, but I wish the baroque cello definition were more accurate. The author states, “It is held between the knees to be played,” and it is true that most modern cellos are. The main difference people immediately notice, however, is that a baroque cello is supported by the player’s calves rather than by an endpin.

In addition, I’d argue that the primary function of purfling (also defined in the “Glossary”) is to protect the edges of the instrument. This is extremely clear if you’ve ever seen or played an instrument with inked purfling. Additionally, not all purfling is the same. These are very minor details, but again, as I mentioned with regard to the previous book: kids notice everything. Since this book is meant to be used in a learning environment, while I appreciate the addition of the “Glossary” at the end, I wish it were more accurate.

In spite of these minor quibbles with terminology, I love this book. It would be a great gift or addition to a lesson waiting area. This book has much for both kids and adults to enjoy. It’s a beautiful photo essay, even without the text—and the text brings everything together, explaining the basics of making a cello. The recording brings the text and photos to life, too. This is a wonderful book.

The Violin Family

  • Author: Melissa Perley
  • Illustrated by Fiona Lee MacLean
  • Publisher: Rootstock Publishing (1 November 2019)
  • Language: ‎English
  • ISBN-10: 157869020X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1578690206
  • Suggested reading age: ‎9 – 12 years

This is a lovely story of a special family—the violin family personified, including a double bass, a cello, a viola, and two violins. They love to play music and eat pancakes together. They enjoy life as a quintet until one of the violins gets injured.

This is an absolutely lovely story with cheerful illustrations that put a smile on my face. I love the personification of the instruments, both in their introduction and when they compare notes at the end after branching out and playing with different ensembles.

I’m hoping that Cecelia Violoncello’s description was meant in a positive way:

“When she sang to the family, she would use her low voice to put them to sleep.”

But this made me laugh:

“Sometimes, just to surprise everyone, she would sing along with Violet and Val [the violins] at their higher pitch—because she could!”

Two points make me hope for a second edition of this book. First, the double bass is introduced as a “bass violin,” which in modern terminology may or may not be the same thing. Second, while this is a lovely story, the terminology in the book and at the end (“A Violin Family Word Guide”) could be more accurate. Stating that “A bow is made with horsehair,” while accurate, leaves out the materials of the frog and the stick.

Having carefully introduced the four types of instruments, defining the violin family as a quintet might be confusing to some. Yes, two violins are anthropomorphized in this book; in this specific family, there are five instruments. But in the more general violin family, this is not the case. Also, I wouldn’t agree that a scroll “is the carved beginning of the neck” of an instrument. It’s too vague. A diagram might help. These are very nitpicky points, but we owe it to young readers to be clear, particularly in an educational book.

One other criticism is the way the instruments make music in this book. Of course, instruments don’t play themselves—but if they did, I doubt they’d have their bows in the following positions (middle bouts are there for a reason):

The Violin Family illustration by Fiona Lee MacLean

The Violin Family illustration by Fiona Lee MacLean

Despite these extremely minor issues, I very much enjoyed this book. It’s a great story, well told, with cheerful illustrations, even with the slightly awkward positioning of their bows. I highly recommend this book, particularly to read aloud to young musicians and music enthusiasts.

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