Where Instruments Come From
written by Annette Bay Pimentel
illustrated by Madison Safer
published by Abrams Books for Young Readers
Author Annette Bay Pimentel explores that idea and take a look at some different instruments. Each section starts with a narrative that begins with, "Before music..." and she tells us a little story about the early starts of an instrument. In the following pages, the reader gets more information. Maybe it's about the history of the instrument - and spoiler alert - an instrument did not usually start in the form we know it as. Pimentel gives us the history behind the instrument and details perhaps the science behind it, or the creativity in its early beginnings, or how a person lent their talent to use this instrument in a new way. Next, we see a variety of instruments that use a similar fashion of being played. Some of these instruments are familiar, many are historical and are not used in the same way. I took my time looking at the different instruments and where they were originally used. Pimentel says early in the book, "humans are makers" and it is evident in the vast number of instruments included in this book!
Beautifully illustrated by Madison Safer, the bright illustrations done in watercolor, gouache, and colored pencils stand out on each page. Another stand out is the size of the book - it stands at 14 1/2inches tall! But with all of the information it covers, I love that there is more room on the page to tell and show the information.
The backmatter contains sources and information about how instruments are classified called organology (I would not have guessed that's what the word meant!). And if the book has called you to play an instrument, well, there are some ideas for making your own in the backmatter!
I am grateful that author Annette Bay Pimentel agreed to answer some questions about her book. Thanks, Annette!
1. I love the perspective of thinking about how instruments got their start. What gave you the idea to write from this perspective?
My kids play string instruments, and I always loved hearing our violin teacher talk about how violins are made. In fact, years ago I wrote a rhyming text about the natural materials in violins. But this book really took off when I attended a session about geography at the conference of the National Council of Social Studies. I started thinking about how each culture is connected to the ecosystem of a particular place. I realized that it's not just violins that have an interesting origin story. Every instrument starts with a creative person figuring out how to shape natural materials to make music. To me, the most awe-inspiring thing is that we humans, throughout the entire world and for even longer than we have records, have always made music with whatever is at hand.
2. I'd love to know more about the research for this! How did you find the information and then how did you decide to structure the writing?
I can't write or even research effectively until I have an idea of the structure I'm building. So I started by reading about organology, which is the science of classifying musical instruments. I already knew the Western classification system--string instruments, brass, woodwind, etc.--but I discovered that other cultures have classified musical instruments in startlingly different ways. The organization of my book is inspired by the classical Chinese system of organizing instruments by the material they're made of, and by Indian and Javanese systems that organize instruments by the action the musician takes to make music, plucking, rubbing, striking, or whirling, etc..
Once I had a framework for my idea, I started looking for instruments. I live near two universities, so I spent a lot of time in their libraries (thankfully most of the research was done before the libraries closed during the pandemic!), but I also used online databases of musical instruments. I spent a lot of time exploring The Grinnell College Musical Instrument Collection and the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Musical Instruments Collection.
3. There are lots of instruments mentioned in the book. Which one would you like to play, if you had your choice?
I love the idea of making music by whirling stuff around. In fact, I was so intrigued by the idea that I bought both whirling pipes and a thunder tube. They're really fun to play, and I'm excited about sharing them with kids when I do author visits.
Thank you, Annette, for stopping by!
Would you like to add a copy of the book to your collection? Annette and Abrams Books for Young Readers have generously donated a copy for giveaway. Enter below for your chance to win! Winner will be selected on June 29th.