CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 1. . . .September 9, 2016
Playing From the Heart.
Peter H. Reynolds.
Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press (Distributed in Canada by Random House Canada), 2016.
32 pp., hardcover, $20.00.
Grades 1-3 / Ages 6-8.
Review by Christina Quintiliani.
From the creator of The Dot and Ish comes Playing from the Heart, a heartwarming tale of a young boy’s unique musical journey and his ever-changing, love-hate relationship with the piano. Peter H. Reynolds, whose distinctive illustrative style has become instantly recognizable due to its presence in the highly beloved Judy Moody series of children’s books, serves as both author and illustrator in this latest title. Similar in nature to the themes presented in his 2012 work Sky Color, Playing from the Heart invites readers young and old to embrace creativity and allow it to open new doors of possibility by carrying them in new, unexplored directions.
The opening pages of Playing from the Heart reveal the curiosities of a young boy named Raj as he explores the family piano for the very first time. Upon hearing the sweet, harmonious sounds that effortlessly emerge from his playing, Raj’s father hires a piano teacher for his son. Initially, Raj is extremely dedicated to learning, and, over time, his musical abilities gradually become more polished and refined. Sadly, as Raj ages, he begins to grow tired of playing and eventually abandons his practicing, leaving the piano to sit unused in his family’s home. As an adult, Raj moves away to the city to work while his father remains behind to reminisce about the joyous sounds that once emanated from the now silent piano. After an unexpected telephone call which reveals that his father is unwell, Raj quickly returns home. For some time, Raj struggles to find a way to bring comfort to his ailing father, until a suggestion is made that he play him a tune on the piano. Letting his heart and newfound reason to play guide his fingers, Raj serenades his father and reclaims his love for the instrument that once occupied such a large part of his life.
Reynolds’ elegant use of watercolour is truly a highlight of the book. Alternating between neutral, earthy tones to accompany more serious events in the plot, and vivid, brightly coloured hues in the happier, song-filled moments, Reynolds skilfully uses colour to mirror emotion. The musical notes that emerge from Raj’s piano are showcased within a vibrant rainbow of watercolours that resemble the brush strokes of artists whose canvases, rather than piano keys, serve as outlets for their creativity. Reynold’s clever use of pen, ink, gouache, and tea offer a quiet melding of moods in the illustrations that work to complement and extend the text.
While the story is relatively short and specific details about Raj’s transition into adulthood remain undisclosed, Reynolds still manages to successfully interweave a wide spectrum of emotions into the condensed depiction of Raj’s life. Aspiring musicians, creative minds, and those who have simply come to admire the motivating nature of Reynolds’ works will not be disappointed by this uplifting story. Playing from the Heart serves as an ideal lesson opportunity on the importance of doing things for the right reasons and never losing touch with the essence of joy that is found at the very core of the endeavours we delight in. A positive, feel good read that is sure to deliver a healthy dose of inspiration directly into the hearts of readers.
Christina Quintiliani is an Ontario Certified Teacher and Ph.D. Candidate at the Faculty of Education, Brock University, St. Catharines, ON., where she is researching children’s literature.
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