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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Really Awful Musicans, story and pictures by John Manders. Clarion, Thomas Allen & Son, 2011. $18.99 ages 5 and up

"All afternoon they played as they rode. They played fast, slow, loud, and soft - all at the same time. Finally, Charlemagne couldn't stand it anymore. "Enough! You guys sound terrible! Why don't you all play together?"

Kids will be hopping out of their seats to help with the onomatopoeic sounds that arise when these 'really awful' musicians run away from the king's court. It seems that playing together makes for dismal music and the king has asked his men to round up the culprits and feed them to the crocodiles:

"The king couldn't face another evening of it. "Enough! No more LOUD, soft, fast-fast-fast!, slo-o-o-o-o-o-ow, screechy, bellowy, terrible musicians! Hire me some mimes!" he thundered."

It's a dilemma; but, the musicians have no intention of hanging around and becoming croc fodder. The young Piffaro is found by the king's men in a nearby village and beats a hasty retreat upon the broad back of an old horse named Charlemagne. They travel through the night. Just as dawn is  breaking they come upon another musician. Espresso is the fastest musician in the kingdom, able to play 'a three-minute waltz in just under twelve seconds' on his mandolin. He is keen to escape with Piffaro and Charlemagne. It isn't long until they hear a tiny tune that is nearly impossible to discern. Serena the Silent does her best to be quiet. She is invited to join the fleeing troupe. As they go, the sounds of their music surrounds them and is sure to delight young readers!

Fortissimo is the next musician to join them, and finally Lugubrio. As they seek refuge from the hungry crocodiles, they play music to accompany their escape. It was near to driving Charlemagne bonkers! They did sound terrible and the horse was about to change all that:

"They looked at Charlemagne’s hoofprints and followed his stick. While they played, each musician listened to the others. When they all played together, the music sounded beautiful, for the first time ever."

As they practice under Charlemagnes's tutelage, they get better. A chance passing-by of the King himself gets them a new gig at the castle....and the mimes? Well, the crocodiles are still hungry. (My son will be delighted by this turn of events.)

In an Author’s Note, Manders suggests that 'some things in this story are almost true', and goes on to explain the development of a shared songbook and musical notation to assure that everyone is singing the same song. He follows that with an introduction to the five instruments whose music graces his pages in disharmony in the beginning, and total harmony once the new lessons are learned.

In his brightly colored gouache and colored pencil illustrations we meet each new and distinct member of this really awful orchestra. Each scene is humorous and expressive and will afford readers a great guffaw as they follow the exploits of this motley crew of performers. There is a lesson here, but it is most certainly camouflaged by the great sense of fun to be had by all who share this unique and hilarious adventure.

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