rating: 4 of 5 stars
The first time I ever heard of Lemony Snicket's The Composer is Dead, was before this book was ever published. Mr. Snicket and his dear old friend, and composer, Nathaniel Stookey, had been commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony to create a theatrical orchestral piece to encourage youth to become more involved with classical music. A sort of Peter and the Wolf for modern children.
This piece landed at the LA Phil (www.laphil.org) and I promptly took my budding cellist of a daughter to see it. Delightful, witty, and a wee bit macabre. It begins with the discovery of a dead composer, in a coffin, being carried off stage. An inspector arrives on the scene and tries to discover who has killed the composer. He interrogates every section the orchestra, every very suspicious instrument. It really was well done. We were only sad that the book was not published yet and could not snatch it up that day. Although there were promises of a picture book and an audio CD to accompany it in the very near future.
Now the book is out, and the moment I saw it I bought it and played it for my younger child, who was much too young to join us for the live performance. She found it just as delightful. The illustrations by Carson Ellis wax nostalgic with their simple lines and muted colors. It looks as though it were meant to be pulled from the pages of a 1930s comic strip. Of course, the colors used as well as the water color technique are far more sophisticated than the printing capabilities of that time, making the illustrations simple and lovely. In my mind I saw something more along the lines of Edward Gorey, but perhaps his use of dark black lines would not be quite as appealing to younger readers, and I should not impose my vision onto those who are at least 20 years my junior. Afterall, this is for them, not me.
The book really cannot be read without the audio accompaniment. Lemony Snicket's narration is very funny. The music, which borrows heavily from the great masters, is dramatic and wonderful. Each instrument is a character in the story and the audio serves to highlight the personalities and duties of each piece of an orchestra. Allowing the listeners to really connect with the instruments and learn what it is they do individually that creates the enormous sound of a music piece.
I do appreciate that the CD that came with it has narrated tracks and then just the music. This allows for theatrical read-alongs for the family. Who gets to narrate as the Inspector next? Daddy? Mommy? Sister? Fluffy?
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