14:14 PB ELEMENTS – The Extraordinary Music of Mr. Ives – CHARACTER
I myself wasn’t aware of this man’s story, or this author, until I pulled this book from the shelf and discovered this gold nugget of history and character. Charles Ives was not famous in his lifetime, but he is now considered a great American composer. The music inside him finally has finally been heard.
The Extraordinary Music of Mr. Ives
author & illustrator
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
(1,260 words, AR Reading Level 3.0)
Centered around a huge tragedy many children will not be aware of, this story chronicles the emotional journey of a quiet insurance salesman in the early 1900’s. The story of Charles Ives reveals something else that many children may not be aware of: that the passions inside of us are valid and worthwhile elements of our character.
This is revealed in a subtle fashion, as we first find Mr. Ives hearing music around him in busy New York city:
The ocean liner Lusitania is sailing from Pier 54. The whistle is so loud, it shakes the ground. A few people cover their ears–but not Mr. Ives. He grabs that sound with both hands and shapes it into a song.
He writes music that is as busy as a city street. There are train whistles in it, and football games, and rowdy picnics and cars rushing past.
The click click click of adding machines and the murmur of good morning are so beautiful that he forgets to say good morning back.
Mr. Ives deals with numbers all day, but lets the music out at breaks. The music “lives inside him, like a friend.” We get the sense that our main character is lonely, except for his music, which many people don’t accept because it is different, “as bold as a city or as noisy as a traffic jam.”
I hope young readers will learn from this story that character is internal. It is not just how we react and interact with others and our circumstances, but why. Character arises from within people…from passion, sensitivity, emotion, devotion. Mr. Ives, his views unappreciated and his skills unrecognized, “writes his music down anyway.”
When the Lusitania is sunk by an enemy torpedo, Mr. Ives sadness overwhelms the music within him. The book beautifully reflects this silence with five wordless spreads illustrating the tragedy. The hush of the city is solid, and dampens his spirit. But then he hears a hurdy-gurdy player (organ grinder) slowly playing the music of a hymn:
“In the sweet bye and bye, we shall meet on that beautiful shore”
The music is “like a promise” and the crowd around him begins to sing. The music returns, and he “mingles the old tune with street sounds.” The new music is titled From Hanover Square north, at the End of a Tragic Day, the Voice of the People Again Arose.
A sadness remains. It is almost 50 years before his music is recognized and appreciated. But his passion, recorded over years in his loneliness, is eventually heard, loved, and accepted. The determination, deep emotion, and gifted sensitivity of a quiet man’s character stand the test of time.
(See a list of other reviewers’ posts in Christi’s latest post at Write Wild.)