What Charlie Heard

What Charlie Heard

by Mordicai Gerstein

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"Gerstein creates a rousing visual cacophony that echos Ives's compositions in this inspired picture-book biography." —Starred, Publishers Weekly

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"Gerstein creates a rousing visual cacophony that echos Ives's compositions in this inspired picture-book biography." —Starred, Publishers Weekly

Editorial Reviews

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"Gerstein creates a rousing visual cacophony that echos Ives's compositions in this inspired picture-book biography." —Starred, Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly
HProfiling American composer Charles Ives, Gerstein (The Wild Boy) plies an artistic style as densely and consciously layered as one of Ives's compositions. The illustrations provide an instant visual connection to the music, which attempts to encompass the sounds of everyday life: Gerstein overlays his spry pen-and-wash artwork with multiple clusters of sound-effect words (e.g., a series of tweety tweets surrounds a caged bird, big red clangs surround toddler Charlie as he bangs on a metal pan). "Charles Ives was born with his ears wide open," Gerstein begins, detailing the kinds of sounds "Charlie" might have heard as a child: included are Charlie's music teacher father's trumpet, the swish of his mother's long dress and "dogs and crickets and the church bells next door," sounds that would later be woven into Ives's music. He tells of Charlie's high school efforts as a composer and how, later, Charlie composed music on the train as he commuted to his insurance job. Gerstein also describes the music's chilly reception: "Most people didn't know how to listen to it. Some thought it was a joke. Others just heard noise and got angry." The book concludes on a triumphant note: not only does Ives finally win acclaim, but he plans to write a Universe Symphony: "Wouldn't that be a glorious noise!" Gerstein creates a rousing visual cacophony that echoes Ives's compositions in this inspired picture-book biography. Ages 4-8. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
The music of American composer Charles Ives is not easy to listen to or understand. In simple language, Gerstein helps make clear the many sources from which Ives drew inspiration, from the instruments played by his music teacher father to the sounds of everyday life in the country, such as birds, church bells, choirs, and marching bands. Ives grew up playing the piano and organ, listening to both popular and classical music. He went to college, married, worked for an insurance company, grew older, became ill. All this time he kept writing music, but was never able to have any performed. Eventually he gained some recognition, but as Gerstein notes, we must open our ears "to hear the...amazing music he heard." Gerstein takes on the challenge of visualizing sounds by flooding every page with the "bong" of bells, the "crack pow" of thunder, the "doodee deedee" of a marching band, and so forth. His scratchy-line colored drawings create characters and events, but it's the multi-hued, variously-sized and shaped letters that join in singing, playing, and blasting out sounds that tell the real story, helping us understand these compositions that are distinctly Ives but also express the American spirit. Notes add additional information. 2002, Frances Foster Books/Farrar Straus and Giroux, $17.00. Ages 4 to 9. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
Gr 2-6-Mordecai Gerstein's marvelous biography of the 20th century American composer, Charles Ives, is brought to life with the addition of the audio soundtrack which adds another level of understanding to his genius through examples of all the sounds that are explained in the book (Farrar/Frances Foster Bks., 2002). Charles Ives' early life was filled with his father's music; the household sounds around him, such as clocks and the rustling of clothes; and the sounds of nature. It was these sounds that Ives tried to recreate in his compositions, though his work wasn't appreciated until the last decade of his life. The story is more about Ives' work than his life, although it becomes clear that his musical compositions were motivated by his life. Gerstein narrates in a gentle tone, as though describing a dear friend, focusing on the sounds that filled his world and inspired him. The music and noises are blended softly into the background so that they don't detract from the narration and also create a mystical tone. Gerstein has married together the perfect blend of clever illustrations, words, and audio in an educational and entertaining musical biography.-Cynthia Grabke, Thayer Public Library, Braintree, MA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A 20th-century composer whose music was so revolutionary that his contemporaries largely ignored him may seem an unlikely subject for a picture-book biography for children, but here Gerstein (I Am Arachne, 2001, etc.) manages to pull it off beautifully. Charles Ives, born in 1874 in Danbury, Connecticut, grows up hearing and learning to love noises of all sorts, from the music of his bandleader father to the ordinary sounds of the world around him: "Sometimes little Charlie lay in his crib just listening. He heard his mother's long dress as she moved around his room. He heard big clocks and little clocks. He heard wagons and horse hooves. He heard dogs and crickets and the church bell next door." As Charlie grows and begins writing music, the simple, direct text describes how he incorporates the sounds he hears into his music, slowly finding an audience in his old age. Delicate ink lines bristle with barely contained energy, while brilliant separations suffuse Charlie's world with color. But what makes this really work are the onomatopoetic renderings of what Charlie hears that fill virtually every page. Hand-lettered "bong, bong, bongs" vie for space with "clangs," "tweedles," and "kapows," all superimposed in color over the pictures to fill the reader's eyes with sound, just as Ives's compositions fill the ears with initially dissonant but ultimately exhilarating music. This vigorous and loving treatment begs to be read to musical accompaniment, and a brief biographical note at the end suggests some selections inspired by sounds depicted in the text. An unusual and joyful treatment of an unusual and joyful subject. (Picture book/biography. 4-8)

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Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
9.78(w) x 10.86(h) x 0.36(d)
330L (what's this?)
Age Range:
4 - 8 Years

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