Several publishers have issued beautifully illustrated picture books on various composers. I will list several that we have enjoyed, but there are many others in most libraries.
Handel and the Famous Sword Swallower of Halle by Brian Stevens, Philomel Books, 1990
This book is the delightful story of Handel's childhood, his burning desire to play music, his unwilling father and his determined aunt. God intervened through his father's employer, the Duke of Weissenfels, and Handel was finally allowed to become a musician and the eventual composer of the most beloved of all classical pieces, Handel's Messiah!
Amadeus Mozart by Ibi Lepsky, Barrons
Did you know that Mozart was homeschooled? His father felt responsible to God for the artistic education of such a gifted son. I didn't either until I read Ibi Lepsky's adorable book. Of all the children's picture books on composers this is probably my favorite.
The sweet illustrations are by the Italian artist Paolo Cardoni. The text is equally innocent, especially the description of Mozart and his sister Nanerl's relationship, and the lack of sibling rivalry between them. The book is a bit harder to find, but like the others in the series (Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci), well worth the effort. There are many books depicting ballets, opera, and classical pieces that have been published for children. The following are several examples of what is available at the library:
Peter and the Wolf Illustrated by Erna Voigt, David Godine publishing
Of all classical music, the piece most often associated with children is Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. There have been several pictorial editions issued lately by various publishers, with accompanying CDs. My personal favorite is the David Godine edition, illustrated by Erna Voigt. Every truly educated child should have the pleasure of hearing and seeing this most popular musical tale.
The Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffman, illustrated Lisbeth Zwerger, Picture Book Studio
First published in 1819, The Nutcracker is one of the best known stories of world literature. This edition, illustrated by the Viennese artist Lisbeth Zwerger, is unique – there's no one quite like Zwerger in depicting fantasy.
This book, or a similar edition, would be an ideal precursor to attending a live ballet as a Christmas family outing. There are also many versions of the music readily available to familiarize yourselves with before the performance, or to accompany this book.
Aida told by Leontyne Price, illustrated Leo and Diane Dylan, Gulliver Books
Opera for children? Definitely! Especially when it combines the study of ancient history with music. Aida, written by the Italian composer Verdi, is one of the most popular operas of all time. It is a story of an Ethiopian princess who is captured and made to serve as a slave to Pharaoh's daughter in Egypt.
Leontyne Price, the great opera singer, retells the story of Aida for children in this lovely edition. This opera has been very meaningful to her personally and professionally, and her closing notes are fascinating.
The high point of this edition are the unique authentic illustrations by Leo and Diane Dylan – as they relate so adeptly the historical setting of the play. A book such as this makes even opera approachable for any child, and is a marvelous preparation before attending a live performance.
Go In and Out of the Window
There are many song books for children in every library, but the nicest I've seen is Go In and Out of the Window. It contains 61 classic children's songs beautifully paired with appropriate artwork. For example, a Japanese woodblock print of a sudden shower illustrates "It's Raining, It's Pouring," and a medieval tapestry of a courting couple illustrates the ballad "Greensleeves." Another lovely coffee table book to let your children grow up with — it is available in most public libraries.
Musical Memories of Laura Ingalls Wilder (Book & CD set) by Diana Waring
An excellent complement to Go In and Out of the Window would be the folk music CDs that were originally produced by Hear and Learn Publications. In addition to their earlier offerings of Westward Ho! and America 1750–1890, they research 13 songs from the Little House Books.
The CDs are excellent and guarantee the preservation of our own American folk music heritage.