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by Anna Harwell Celenza ; illustrated by JoAnn E. Kitchel

Age Range: 6 - 9

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-57091-348-8
Publisher: Charlesbridge

“Zig and zig and zig. Maestro Death keeps time.” A friend’s poem and a visit to the catacombs underneath Paris in 1872 inspire composer Camille Saint-Saëns to write a now-famous orchestral piece echoing the sounds of dancing, clacking skeletal bones.

Imagining dialogue and taking some liberties with the story (as she explains in the backmatter), music scholar Celenza conjures up the underground visit, a first performance of the piece as a song, its orchestration and premier performance. She emphasizes the composer’s fascination with the idea of dancing skeletons and his desire “to try to capture that sensation in music.” She uses some delicious words—ossuary, amorously, rambunctious, diabolical, ghoulish—sure to intrigue young listeners. Two pages toward the end of the narrative could serve as program notes describing the story in the music. As with other books in this series, the package includes a CD recording. The 1996 performance is by the Pittsburgh Symphony directed by Lorin Maazel. Kitchel’s pastel watercolors belie the mood of the story, although the dancing skeletons, in shades of gray, will show beautifully for Halloween read-alouds. Though the live people in these illustrations have all the animation of paper dolls, these jointed figures clearly dance.

An intriguing if fanciful introduction to a musical classic. (Picture book. 6-9)