Putting images to sounds

posted in: Colin McNaughton, Satoshi Kitamura | 12

Photo: dullhunk

Once Upon An Ordinary School Day by Colin McNaughton, illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura has been on my to-review list since last summer. I had hoped to write about it when M started school, but it is only now, half way through the year (!) that we’ve managed to do the activity that Once Upon An Ordinary School Day has been crying out for us to do! It involved lots of duvets, quilts and wonderful music…. and was a great deal of fun! But first of all, a little about this lovely book.

Once upon an ordinary school day,
an ordinary boy woke from his ordinary dreams,
got out of his ordinary bed, had an ordinary pee,
an ordinary wash, put on his ordinary clothes,
and ate his ordinary breakfast.

The ordinary day continues, the boy makes his way to school, and settles himself down for his first class. So far, so ordinary. But then, something quite out of the ordinary happens…

It turns out that the class has a new teacher, Mister Gee. The kids don’t know him, and he doesn’t know the kids, but he does have a great idea for changing this. First he puts on some music for the class to listen to and encourages them “to let the music make pictures” in their heads.

The kids are rather taken aback by this strange task, but the music is so wonderful it wins them over. The music conjures up different images in different children, and Mister Gee asks his class to write down what each of them hears so that he can read each child’s story that night. Suddenly the ordinary boy’s day has been transformed into something extraordinary – the music has acted as a catalyst, releasing a tremendous stream of creativity, excitement and a real enjoyment of writing.

And as the music
grew and swooped and
danced and dived once more,
the ordinary boy began to write.
He used words he didn’t fully understand
and his story made no sense but it didn’t matter
and he didn’t care. And he wrote as fast as he could
but it would never be fast enough – there was just too
much to say. It was as if a dam had burst in his head
and words just came flooding out…

I adore this tale about awakening a love of words, about a creative approach to literacy, about the power of music. It is beautifully written and stunningly illustrated. The opening few pages, as we follow the boy on his ordinary start to his ordinary day are all grey but as his day is transformed, more and more colour is introduced. Kitamura’s drawings are deliciously detailed, from the scattered contents of his school bag to the thousands of bricks in the buildings he walks past on his way to school – there’s plenty for reader and listener to pour over and enjoy.

In response to this gorgeous and highly recommended book, first we re-watched Fantasia, an animated Walt Disney film from 1940, which features various different animated stories set to music – including fairies dancing through the seasons to music from the Nutcracker suite and Mickey Mouse as a wizard’s assistant set to The Sorceror’s Apprentice. We talked a little about the idea of the pictures matching the music but mostly we just enjoyed it. Lots of clips from Fantasia are available to watch on YouTube if you haven’t got the video or DVD.

Then I set up a bed in the kitchen (because that’s where our stereo is). I made the bed as comfy and inviting as possible, put up some fairy lights and selected a few short pieces of music for the girls to listen to. When choosing these three pieces I tried to go for recordings that the girls hadn’t heard before, that were very different from each other and were quite short. When everything was ready the girls climbed in to the bed, I tucked them up, turned the big lights off and the fairy lights on and then started the music.

Having listened to the music once, we all sat round the table and listened again, but this time with paper, pens, pencils in front of us and I asked the girls to draw what they heard.

In response to Lionel Hampton playing Jammin’ on high society M drew “a yellow fairy and fairy dust” and “a yellow unicorn”.

In response to the Prelude and Mazurka which open’s Delibes’ Coppelia M draw “a pterosaur flying over the ocean”.

We then listened to the opening of Mozart’s requiem and M wrote this short story:

The dinosaur flew to the beach.
A sea monster came to eat him.
4 allosauruses had a party.

Obviously we’ve been listening to lots of music to encourage pictures in our heads, but here’s some more music about pictures that we’ve been listening to:

  • Picture Book by The Kinks
  • Pictures at an Exhibition by Mussorgsky, played here by Alfred Brendel

  • I also want to listen with the girls to the CDs that come with Yellow Umbrella, reviewed here by The Artful Parent and Can You Hear It? By Dr. William Lach and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

    One day when I’m feeling brave I’d like to try making a different sort of artwork inspired by music – I’d place a large white sheet on the floor and let the girls stand with bare feet in some paint, then I’d put some music on and let them dance over the sheet. Their footprints would leave patterns somehow related to the music (or at least that’s the theory!)

    Another music inspired art project we might try one day is designing our own CD covers – “The album cover has always been the musicians’ canvas, and in its heyday, an outlet for art, social comment and experimentation.”

    Finally, this post is a good place to announce a new mini-series from Playing by the bookStories in Tune. Once a month I shall be reviewing a picture book which has been directly inspired by a piece of music – seeing as we love our books and love our music here it seemed only natural to look for books that were written and illustrated specifically in response to a given piece of music. We’ll be starting next Friday and I’d love to see you there…

    Today’s post is part of Read Aloud Thursday, hosted at Hope is the Word.

    12 Responses

    1. Andi

      I can’t wait to read this book! A comment regarding your feet painting – I do a similar activity with my students called “magic paintbrushes” the only difference is that the children only imagine that they have paint on their feet as they dance across the floor and we discuss the imaginary paintings that they produce. Have you ever read Eric Carle’s “I See a Song,” it would fit in well with this theme.

    2. jojoebi

      How strange, my son is just doing a picture to the song Country road take me home, I had him listen to it a couple of times then draw a picture from the music. Whilst he was drawing I thought I would catch up on some blog reading and here is this post!

    3. Zoe

      Hi Andi, I don’t know that Eric Carle but I shall certainly look for it now – thanks for the tip.

      Hi Jojoebi, Lovely to see you here! I love your recent slippers by the way 🙂 I’d love to have seen Ebi-Kun’s picture.

    4. Amy @ Hope Is the Word

      Well, this is just a lovely post. I’m SO GLAD you linked it up to Read Aloud Thursday!

      This looks like a terrific book–I’ll have to search it out and borrow your idea! 🙂

    5. Janet

      What a beautiful post! I feel inspired to dig deeply into different aspects of a story with my children now. Thanks for sharing these ideas.

    6. Steph Burgis

      The book sounds great, and the activities you guys did sound really fun (and I’m bookmarking this entry as a reminder for when MrD is a bit older!) – but mostly I just had to say how adorable those photos are, especially the second one! The way she’s listening so intently while surrounded by her honor guard of stuffed animals…just really, really lovely.

    7. Zoe

      Thanks Steph for your kind words. I’m amazed at how well this prompt for writing has worked – M has asked to do it several times this week, and although I’m not convinced that what she is writing is really inspired by the music, she still insists we listen to a short piece before she starts writing!

    8. Margo Dill

      Great post. I love how you showed us your girls in their “bed” listening to music and then the story and illustrations they made. Very interesting. 🙂

    9. Zoe @ Playing by the book

      Hi Margo,

      The girls certainly enjoyed the bed – it was something of a princess and the pea affair – lots of quilts and pillows and it seemed very exciting to them to have it in the kitchen!

    10. Choxbox

      Lovely ideas! Thanks Zoe. Your blog is a treasure chest of awesome ideas!

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