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Review of 88 Instruments

barton_88 instruments88 Instruments
by Chris Barton; 
illus. by Louis Thomas
Primary    Knopf    32 pp.
8/16    978-0-553-53814-4    $17.99
Library ed.  978-0-553-53815-1    $20.99    g
e-book ed.  978-0-553-53823-6    $10.99

Move over, kid in the candy shop: a child has been unleashed in a music store, and the sight of its many — eighty-eight — instruments has the effect of sugar on him. But his parents are allowing him to select only one. How’s a kid to choose? Does he go with “the slideyest… / the squonkiest… / the blowiest… / the honkiest… / the toot-iest or grooviest or shiniest? / Or maybe just the tiniest?” The galloping rhymed text, featuring toe-tapping dictionary rejects (“thrummiest”), is a song unto itself that crescendos with the “plink!” of a piano, which wins the day: “I’m going to learn the plinkiest… / the plunkiest… / and, here to there, / the spunkiest.” The rub: “There are so many keys to keep straight, so many to master. How many are there?” Turns out there are eighty-eight keys—one could say that amounts to eighty-eight separate musical instruments—which the boy resolves to tackle “one note at a time.” The loose-handed, even jittery illustrations foreground his attempts to play many of the instruments; meanwhile, his parents are a mute chorus of comical anxiety. They’re a well-meaning pair determined to let their son make his own decision, but when they’re out of his eyeshot, their expressions reveal their doubt, worry, and — as the boy samples the bagpipes — aural pain.

From the July/August 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

About Nell Beram

Nell Beram is coauthor of the young adult biography Yoko Ono: Collector of Skies (Amulet/Abrams), which made the 2014 Amelia Bloomer Project list and YALSA’s 2014 Outstanding Books for the College Bound list.

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