Review of Playing at the Border: A Story of Yo-Yo Ma

Playing at the Border: A Story of Yo-Yo Ma
by Joanna Ho; illus. by Teresa Martinez
Primary, Intermediate    Harper/HarperCollins    40 pp.    g
9/21    978-0-06-299454-7    $17.99

“Feet planted on the soil of one nation, eyes gazing at the shores of another,” runs the refrain of this book, which uses one incident from cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s career to introduce a consideration of his life as a whole. In April 2019, as part of the Bach Project, Ma performed Bach’s cello suites on the banks of the Rio Grande — the border between the United States and Mexico — in order to build a metaphorical bridge between the “two countries that used to be one.” Born in Paris to Chinese parents and raised in the United States, Ma has always been a barrier-breaker. He plays music composed in different places and from different times, with a cello made of parts from “lands of many languages.” Ho’s (Eyes That Kiss in the Corners) lyrical text and Martinez’s lush and sweeping digital illustrations reflect Ma’s ease with finding “home at the intersections of cultures, where traditions are kept alive and new ideas are born.” All illustrations, including the cover and the endpapers, are double-page spreads. They break the borders between pages (i.e., the gutter) and act as visual representations of how music — and all forms of art — can cross borders and bring people together. By examining the life of Ma, whose story resonates with courage, persistence, and unity, Ho inspires readers to break barriers of their own. A more detailed explanation of Ma’s performance at the border and its significance is given in the back matter, which also includes additional information about Ma, his cello, and the Bach Project; a brief bibliography; and an author’s note.

From the September/October 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Weileen Wang
You-Ling (Weileen) Wang loves to write, read, and illustrate. She attended Vanderbilt University, where she studied child development and fell in love with children's literature. She holds a master's degree in arts in education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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