A Tuesday Ten: Let the Music Play!

A facet of speculative fiction I have always enjoyed is the use of music within a story.  Whether magical or simply melodic, I enjoy finding stories that touch on it.

1.

Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey (Bantram Spectra, c1976)

One of my favorite books with music.  This is the first book in the Harper Hall Trilogy, the only science fictional story on the list.  Menolly has a tremendous musical gift burning inside her, but girls can’t be harpers, and so her gift is constantly punished rather than encouraged.  Finally Menolly runs away to live in the wilds where she meets and impresses an entire group of fire lizards.  While the fire lizards and dragons are a large part of this Pern story, the books focus on Menolly and her gift of music and how she comes to grow into her talents.

2.

The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden, illustrated by Garth Williams (Square Fish, c1960)

If you don’t know this New York City fantasy classic, it’s high time you did.  The story of a very musical cricket who finds himself abruptly transported to the city by his love of liverwurst.  Chester’s ability to create music and share it weaves through the story. While there are a few aspects of this story that have become pointedly dated over time. (Specifically those aspects dealing with Chinatown) this truly deserved the Newbery Honor it received.

3.

Ghoulish Song by William Alexander (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2013)

Kaile is a girl who dreams of being a musician.  But when she comes into possession of a bone flute and tries to play it, her shadow runs off on its own.  Now her own family is treating her like she’s dead and Kaile must figure out the mystery behind the flute and learn how to use her own musical talents.

4.

The Mysterious Woods of Whistle Root by Christopher Pennell, illustrated by Rebecca Bond (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013)

An odd, fairy tale sort of story from last year that lands on this list because our insomniac heroine befriends a fiddle playing mouse.  It seems the mouse is just one of many such mice from the woods of whistle root that play instruments on the rooftops on particular nights, but now that the mice are under threat from the owls, they need help.  Carly Bean Bitters decides to help her small friend and uncovers the story behind the Whistle root trees and how they can help stop a dark evil threatening the forest once more.

5.

The Ballad of the Harp Weaver by Edna St. Vincent Millay, illustrated by Beth Peck (Philomel, c1923)

This is a poem I read during my study of this poet.  This sweet, but sad ballad here is transformed into a poignant picture book about a mother who has no way to cloth her child  over the harsh winter and all she has left to her is a harp.  She uses the harp to magically create clothing for her child.  I chose to include it because it’s a little story that still haunts my memory even all these years later, but it’s awfully sad and I wouldn’t recommend it for very young listeners.

6.

The Singer of All Songs by Kate Constable (Scholastic, c2002)

This is the first book in the Chanters of Tremaris, a fantasy story where certain people are gifted with the power to weave magic through their singing. Calwyn is a priestess with the power of ice chantment.  She only knows the routine and safety of her daily life behind the walls of her home. But when she meets an Outlander and learns of a danger that threatens the world, she’ll leave everything she’s known behind and face a journey of adventure, magic and danger.

7.

Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin (2014, Razorbill)

When Little John meets a half-wild girl up in a tree singing, he knows Gayle’s voice is something special.  There’s magic in it he’s sure,  healing magic.  Mr. King has also noticed Gayle’s remarkable singing, and wants Little John to convince the girl to sing for him . . . But magic does not take well to being caged.  This is a poignant, ultimately hopeful contemporary fantasy.

8.

A Mouse Called Wolf by Dick King-Smith, illustrated by Jon Goodell

Wolfgang Amadeus Mouse (Wolf for short) is a mouse with a passion for music.  He yearns to sing along with the music played on the piano by Ms. Honeybee–and one day he tries, with astoundingly good results.  The pianist and the mouse strike up a lovely friendship and little Wolf realizes the full potential of his musical gift.  An adorable animal fantasy for younger readers told by the author that gave us the original Babe the Gallant Pig.

The Bronze King by Suzy McKee Charnas (Houghton Mifflin, c1985)

Book one of the Sorcery Hall Trilogy.  While the entire story is not focused on music, the fiddle playing man from Sorcery Hall that Val summons uses his music as the focus of his magic.  In fact in the course of the series his fiddle gets destroyed and said farewell to, and then “resurrected” by one of Val’s young friends who has to deal with the dangerous magic that comes out of it when he tries to play it.

10.

The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Robert Browning, illustrated by Kate Greenaway (Everyman’s Library, c1842)

Quite possibly the original magical music story.  The pied piper has seen many reiterations over the decades, but this Browning poem of it remains a classic.  A town plagued by rats hires a stranger with a flute who claims he can get rid of the critters.  The stranger charms the rats into following him with a tune on his flute and leads them all into the water where they drown.  Unfortunately the mayor decides not to pay the piper and the piper exacts his revenge upon all of Hamelin.

So there you have it!  Please chime in with your own titles!  Comments welcome!

**Update**

For more titles related to music please check out Fantasy for Music Lovers at alibrarymama!

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About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on February 18, 2014, in General Posts, Lists and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. So fun! I have a list of musical fantasies on my blog here: http://wp.me/P2yvgS-je – which has Dragonsong and Singer of All Songs in common – and we could maybe count Maurice and His Educated Rodents, as a Pied Piper retelling. I’ve been meaning to read Nightingale’s Nest and The Cricket in Times Square… but you’ve several here that I haven’t heard of, which is exciting.

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