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Once Upon a Tune – Stories from the Orchestra

Authored by James Mayhew
Illustrated by James Mayhew
Published by Otter-Barry Books Ltd

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Like me, you may be familiar with musical pieces such as The Flight of the Bumblebee without necessarily being aware of the original story behind the music. In this cleverly titled book, Once Upon a Tune – Stories from the Orchestra, James Mayhew takes the reader on a ‘musical storytelling adventure’ retelling the stories which inspired famous musical pieces such as The William Tell Overture and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

The stories in this collection are just the right length for reading aloud in one sitting and could be accessed independently by able Year 2 readers as well as KS2 children. Each tale has the quality one might expect; lyrical touches within the prose and a traditional storyteller’s voice shining through.

The images do not disappoint either; Mayhew has created a visual feast for the eyes. Multi-layered collage illustrations have been created through a combination of rubbings, music manuscripts, printing, and fabric. I enjoyed turning each page; eager to find where the musical notations were placed. Sometimes these form part of the backdrop, sometimes the detail, for example the wings on the Bumblebee Prince or the petals of a flower. There is certainly plenty to explore from a visual perspective.

Beyond sharing the tales, the author’s other aim, as indicated the introduction, is to pique the interest of young readers in the concept of music as a form of storytelling. As he declares, ‘Music is a wonderful, unique way to tell a story’ and this book could certainly provide an early, accessible route into classical music. In addition to the tales, readers can also learn information regarding the background behind the stories, as well as the composers in a section at the end of the book. Accompanying this is a list of Mayhew’s recommended recordings of the pieces, which readers can stream or download.

A magical blend of storytelling, art, and music and certainly a book that I would want in my lower KS2 classroom.