I just returned from a production of Peter and the Wolf, put on for families by the Santa Rosa Symphony and a pantomime team. The beautiful Green Music Center was packed with families, especially children of all ages. The whole hall was abuzz with the excited chatter. I wondered how the kids would settle down. Then, one of the mimes came on stage. Without saying a word, she simply began getting everyone’s attention by waving to people and smiling. Once all eyes were on her, she then mimed a little skit about something unexpected: the first violinist was not there. As if to fill the time, she then led everyone in silly stretches. Silly in relation to the hall, but not silly in relation to the purpose… getting all the wigglies out of the little ones before the concert started. It was masterful from beginning to end, as was the concert.
I couldn’t help but think about great children’s books and their talented authors. In a way, they have to do just what the mime did. First, get the children’s attention. Then, get them so involved that any restlessness dissolves, and they are with the story. After that, the magic can take over. When I think of some of the books that are on LitKidz, they do that beautifully. Think of the opening lines of some of the great ones. “If you want to find Cherry-Lane, all you have to do is ask the Policeman at the cross-roads.” (Mary Poppins.) And then the reader is led down the street, following the Policeman’s directions, all the way to Number Seventeen. Before you know it, you are just so curious to know what is so special about Number Seventeen, Cherry Lane. And you’re hooked.
Next time you browse through children’s books, think of the movements of a symphony like Peter and the Wolf, and if the book has the kind of musical drama to it, you’ve picked a winner. What’s your favorite?