“‘It is almost Friday night. Outside, the dark is getting darker,’ and here and there around the city ninety-two men and thirteen women are getting dressed to go to work. First they bathe and put on their underwear. Then they don special black-and-white apparel. Then when the one hundred and five people are completely ready, each takes a musical instrument and travels to midtown. There, at 8:30 tonight, they will work together: playing.” -from HarperCollins.com
The Philharmonic Gets Dressed is one of those oldies-but-goodies that I never read as a child, but wish I had, because I adore it so much as an adult. As a bookseller, I appreciate it because it’s one of my go-to handsells when someone asks for a book about musical instruments (even though it’s not the “this is a cello, this is an oboe, this is a piccolo” sort of musical instruments book, it’s so charming that I always suggest it anyway). As a reader and a children’s lit enthusiast, I love this book because it’s one of those classics that will never get old. Unless, you know, hundreds of years from now the NY Philharmonic, or perhaps orchestras in general, have been replaced by robots or maybe just at-home digital/virtual concerts. Let’s hope, though, that live orchestral music never becomes obsolete.
But I digress (as usual). Ms. Kuskin, it pains me that I’m a couple of months too late for you to somehow read this, though I’ve no doubt you heard every kind of praise for this book and mine couldn’t possibly be anything new. That won’t stop me from trying, though! What’s so special about you, and your work on this book, is the crafted feel of the text. You’ve written one of those perfect books, the kind that I could read again and again and never find any fault with. Your prose is simple and spare, giving just enough information without clogging things up, and there’s a really beautifully understated rhythm and flow that just makes me giddy with happiness. Perhaps it’s because you were also a poet–your skill in carefully choosing and molding words into verse served you equally well in creating exceptionally fine prose that looks easy, but undoubtedly wasn’t.
The other great thing about the text of this book is the story itself–you capture that lovely anticipatory feeling of preparing for a performance (a thrill I always look back on fondly), while also tapping into the natural curiosity of children, and people in general, about the offstage doings of onstage performers. As if that wasn’t enough appeal, you also satisfy young children’s love of routine with this book–bathing, getting dressed, putting on coats and scarves and gloves, commuting, all things children and their parents do every day, but with the added intrigue of night-time, when most children are getting ready for bed. How unusual, then, for these characters to be leaving their families at home and heading out into the dark to go to work!
And then, of course, there’s the brilliant art, telling the bits of the story the text doesn’t. Mr. Simont, I’ve always loved your illustrations, and this book is no exception! The clever hints of personality you inject into the orchestra members, and the delightful variety you manage to portray among a whole bunch of people all dressing to match each other makes every page something to pore over to catch all the details. Your style is so fluid and charming, too, and the humor and visual variety of the musicians reminds me pleasantly of 101 Dalmatians and the procession of people who look like their dogs (at 4:52). Your illustrations are busy without being at all overwhelming, frank and funny in your depiction of diverse bodies, bathing, and the hassles of underclothes, and evocative of the text in a way that makes me convinced your art was the perfect choice for Ms. Kuskin’s words.
The Philharmonic Gets Dressed is a fantastic blend of elements that will never lose it’s appeal for me, and hopefully will never lose it’s appeal for children, either. You both made something wonderful here, and I’m so glad you did! Five stars and a standing ovation.
Books this year: 101
Pages this year: 20,330