Most people these days expect to see every children's storybook full of interesting illustrations and vivid colours. BJ Novak recently created the exception to prove this rule with his wonderful The Book With No Pictures. But generally the importance of the visual in engaging and maintaining a child's interest is undisputed. What is not so appreciated is that the aural is of equal importance.
Continuous living traditional cultures such as the Australian aboriginals show that music has been entwined with storytelling for thousands of years. Other ancient cultures such as the Roman and Greek suggest, through visual representation, that music accompanied dramatic and special events and epic tales.
Modern-day science has been able to demonstrate that there are centres for musical appreciation in the brain; that immature brains make important intellectual connections under the influence of music; and that music helps in brain development on many fronts – social , physical, emotional, creative and for literacy.
On a more personal level, every parent knows that babies are soothed by lullabies and that toddlers respond to nursery rhymes. At some point, around the time when reading at bedtime becomes routine, this home-made music (singing or humming) drops off. Music may not be gone entirely from the child's world (there's still Wiggles on the telly) but that close connection that a parent's musical voice brings, is lost.
The oldest musical instrument in the world is the human voice and the oldest music is the song. Songs combine the story organically with music. But the music does more than act as a vehicle for the story. It creates an emotional world around it. Music enhances the story's content and intention a thousand-fold. It makes the listener feel the sorrow or joy, the pain or pleasure that the story seeks to convey. More than that, it can conjure up in the listener's mind visual images – everything from running streams to trains, from military parades to children's playgrounds.
The musical storybook Magpie Baby seeks to address some of these observations. Aimed at the child that is not yet reading, it takes music that is descriptive, but perhaps not obviously so, and creates a story that the child will recognise as its own. Here she is sleeping; there she has learnt to sit up, if somewhat precariously; now she is knocking over her block towers; another time she has learnt to crawl. It is all there in the music, but the story 'interprets' it for the child without her knowing it (and possibly the parent too). Magpie Baby finds the missing element in storytelling – the aural.
Diana Weston is a doctor and musician living in Sydney. Magpie Baby is her first book. It is based on a piece of music she originally commissioned from composer Nadje Noordhuis, Magpie Baby: A Childhood Suite. Find out more about Diana and her book Magpie Baby, including links to two sample soundtracks, by visiting the Captain Honey website.