From School Library Journal
Kindergarten-Grade 5—Benjamin Britten's "Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" has been the gold standard for introducing children to instruments since 1946. The concept has been embraced (some may say enhanced) by none other than Lemony Snicket, whose picture-book overview offers the additional layer of a murder mystery. The CD presentation features music by Nathaniel Stookey, performed by the San Francisco Symphony. The story is well paced, employing wordplay, humor, and mild suspense to build a slow crescendo that originates with the delicate strings and climaxes with percussion. The bombastic Inspector, read by Snicket on the CD, sports pinstripes, a bowler hat, and a handlebar mustache in the book. As he interrogates each section of the orchestra, the instruments describe their whereabouts on the night of the crime in characteristic voices, telling something about their actual roles while offering imagery for the illustrator. Thus, "'We were performing a waltz,' said the Violins. 'We played graceful melodies so the ladies and gentlemen could spin around and around and around until they felt dizzy and somewhat nauseous.'" Ellis's watercolors combine caricatures of the action with silhouettes of the instruments. Evidence leads to the conductor, since "wherever there's a conductor, you're sure to find a dead composer!" Musings on justice versus art point to certain acquittal. Due to the length of the musical portions, it is unlikely that children will listen and read simultaneously. It is quite likely, however, that both formats will provide entertainment and enlightenment, in whatever order they are encountered.—Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library
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This irreverent picture book is built somewhat along the lines of Who Killed Cock Robin?, but imbued with Snicket’s charmingly snide wit. The Composer is dead (“This is called decomposing”) and the Inspector is called in to uncover the murderer—or murderers. The sections of the orchestra are personified as the Inspector interrogates the Violins and Woodwinds and Trumpets and even the Conductor. Each has an alibi, though by the end it becomes clear that they are all complicit in the butchering of countless dead composers. The artwork alternates between silhouettes of instruments, the indignant Inspector accusingly pointing his finger, and chaotic, playful interpretations of waltzes and marches as notes and ligatures swirl about. An accompanying CD features a comically dramatic reading by Snicket set against a mishmash of music that integrates motifs from various classical sources. The whole slightly macabre package is great fun, and while many youngsters will miss the clever wordplay and wry twist at the end, this still winds up being a fairly good overview of each orchestral section’s role in bringing music to life. Or death. Grades K-3. --Ian Chipman