Nonfiction can’t be in first person unless it’s an autobiography. But historical fiction can use a first person speaker. In Becoming Bach Tom Leonard uses a first person speaker–Bach himself!–to explore the emotional roots of the world’s most beloved music. The events depicted in the story are all historically accurate, but Leonard uses his imagination to explore what Bach’s emotional reactions to those events might have been.
I’ve always thought of Bach’s music as being logical and carefully ordered–the Baroque rule-keeping as comapred to the Romantic era’s emotional abandon. So for me it was a paradigm shift to think of the music of Bach as being intensely personal and evocative. But this book convinced me that I’ve been missing an important layer in his work.
The art in the book shows musical notes moving and shifting, turning into vivid colors, floating and twisting in the air, and creating entire castles. It’s one of my favorite-ever picture book depictions of art. The afterword lets you in on the secret that one of the people painted in the book is actually the author/illustrator!
Two spreads are oriented vertically instead of horizontally, so that you have to turn the book to read it. The turns are used strategically at key emotional moments in the book. It would be fun to ask a class why they think the artist makes you turn the book at those specific points.
Open this book and enjoy the art of music!
Becoming Bach by Tom Leonard. Neal Porter Books: 2017.