WHAT CHARLIE HEARD by Mordicai Gerstein
Kirkus Star


Age Range: 4 - 8
Email this review


A 20th-century composer whose music was so revolutionary that his contemporaries largely ignored him may seem an unlikely subject for a picture-book biography for children, but here Gerstein (I Am Arachne, 2001, etc.) manages to pull it off beautifully. Charles Ives, born in 1874 in Danbury, Connecticut, grows up hearing and learning to love noises of all sorts, from the music of his bandleader father to the ordinary sounds of the world around him: “Sometimes little Charlie lay in his crib just listening. He heard his mother’s long dress as she moved around his room. He heard big clocks and little clocks. He heard wagons and horse hooves. He heard dogs and crickets and the church bell next door.” As Charlie grows and begins writing music, the simple, direct text describes how he incorporates the sounds he hears into his music, slowly finding an audience in his old age. Delicate ink lines bristle with barely contained energy, while brilliant separations suffuse Charlie’s world with color. But what makes this really work are the onomatopoetic renderings of what Charlie hears that fill virtually every page. Hand-lettered “bong, bong, bongs” vie for space with “clangs,” “tweedles,” and “kapows,” all superimposed in color over the pictures to fill the reader’s eyes with sound, just as Ives’s compositions fill the ears with initially dissonant but ultimately exhilarating music. This vigorous and loving treatment begs to be read to musical accompaniment, and a brief biographical note at the end suggests some selections inspired by sounds depicted in the text. An unusual and joyful treatment of an unusual and joyful subject. (Picture book/biography. 4-8)

Pub Date: March 18th, 2002
ISBN: 0-374-38292-1
Page count: 40pp
Publisher: Frances Foster/Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2002


ChildrenTHE BOY AND THE WHALE by Mordicai Gerstein
by Mordicai Gerstein
ChildrenTHE SLEEPING GYPSY by Mordicai Gerstein
by Mordicai Gerstein
ChildrenI AM PAN by Mordicai Gerstein
by Mordicai Gerstein


ChildrenTHE EXTRAORDINARY MUSIC OF MR. IVES by Joanne  Stanbridge
by Joanne Stanbridge
ChildrenTHE MAD POTTER by Jan Greenberg
by Jan Greenberg
ChildrenMR. CORNELL'S DREAM BOXES by Jeanette Winter
by Jeanette Winter