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The Composer Is Dead Hardcover – March 3, 2009
This month's Book With Buzz: "The Lying Game" by Ruth Ware
From the instant New York Times bestselling author of blockbuster thrillers "In a Dark, Dark Wood" and "The Woman in Cabin 10" comes Ruth Ware’s chilling new novel, "The Lying Game." See more
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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
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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
Top customer reviews
From the mind of Lemony Snicket (late of "A Series of Unfortunate Events" fame) with music by Nathaniel Stookey, this tale opens on the unfortunate death of the titular composer (and with a silly joke at which I freely admit I may have chuckled a bit too much, but such is the lot of a music major). A dashing and "intelligent" detective is summoned, who vows to ferret out the despicable criminal from the sections of the orchestra.
As much fun as it was to read, it was equally pleasurable, if not more so, to hear the story realized with Stookey's music. Each passage of the composition is highly idiomatic. Classical music buffs are also likely to catch homages to various works in the modern repertory. Daniel Handler (our narrator and author) also adds some delightful touches in the CD that are simply not present in the book. The song of the French horns, for example, is side-splittingly funny.
The only "complaint" I have, if you can even call it a complaint, is that Snicket departs from his "ASoUE" illustrator, Brett Helquist. Carson Ellis does a fine job with this book, but after writing in excess of 13 books with the same illustrator, a Pavlovian response is all but inevitable.
Summary: Both adults and children will find something of value in this book. A good book for one's personal library.
I bought this for daughter for her sixth birthday, and her reaction, unexpectedly, was sheer terror. She literally shook with fear at the suspenseful-sounding music and couldn't understand the figurative concept of the "dead" composer. I thought that she must just be too young for the book, I'll put it away for her for a couple of years from now, but she later found it and freaked out again and demanded that I get rid of it. i gave it to a coworker with an eight- and four-year-old, warned her about my daughter's reaction, and she played it for her four-year-old. . . who absolutely loved it. Go figure. I think it is a fantastic book, but not the right fit for all kids.
The book, on the other hand, is a dud. The text is just a copy of the narration from the performance, which is much too wordy for a picture book, and the humor falls flat on the page. I like the illustrations, but I hoped they'd contribute to the introduction to the orchestra by showing all of the instruments. Instead, the instruments appear in silhouette (since they are suspects in the story) and some of them only appear in a shot of the entire orchestra.
The moment I saw Lemony Snicket's name on the cover of The Composer Is Dead at the library the other day, I knew I had to read it. I knew it would be funny; what I wasn't expecting was this musical masterpiece.
The story is somewhat basic: a composer has been murdered, and the detective must sound out the man, er, instrument who committed the crime. The text, however, isn't what makes this book so amazing.
This isn't just a picture book, nor is it just an audio book or just a soundtrack; it is an experience. The book is funny enough on its own, but play the accompanying cd with soundtrack, and it's even greater. The experience, however, doesn't reach fever pitch until you add in Snicket's exceptional narration (also included on the cd).
Daniel Handler, the man behind the Snicket, must have played in an orchestra at some point in his life. It's the only way to explain how all of the humor in The Composer Is Dead is spot on.
While marketed as a children's picture book, young children won't get most of the jokes. Instead, the musically inclined adult reading (or listening) to the book will be laughing to the point of hyperventilating.
Don't believe me? See the book trailer on the Amazon page, which demonstrates a bit of what I'm talking about.
I played this book for my stepmom, a concert cellist cum cello instructor. She laughed and nodded at all the jokes and one-liners, and then immediately went out to purchase a copy to share with her students.
I highly recommend this book as a gift for the music major/orchestra teacher/flautist in your life. If they've played in an orchestra, even just in high school, they will be rolling by the time the experience ends. Then buy a copy for yourself.