In 1939, when popular American novelist Gertrude Stein wrote The World Is Round, it was markedly different from other children’s literature of the time. In its pink pages, Stein wrote about a little girl named Rose who was in search of her individual identity. Rose had a favourite song, that she would only sing in the presence of her big dog Love which went like, “I am a little girl, and my name is Rose. Rose is my name. Why am I a little girl? And why is my name Rose?”. Stein isn’t the only famous writer, who despite not being a children’s literature author dabbled into writing children’s books. Ernest Hemingway wrote The Faithful Bull, Salman Rushdie wrote Haroun and The Sea of Other Stories, and there are many others like them — Margaret Atwood’s Up In The Tree for instance, or James Joyce’s The Cat And The Devil. The latest addition to this list is the writer of racy thrillers, Dan Brown, with his new book Wild Symphony.
Wild Symphony is a picture book, with an accompanying classical music album (yes! you read it right) written for kids between the age of 3 to 7. The book tells the story of a mouse, who is a conductor of an orchestra that has a motley team of wild animals from tigers to kangaroos, to slightly tamer ones like kittens and swans. They are all different in their make, and shape, and they all have valuable lessons for kids. Kittens, for instance, teach how to fall and land on one’s feet, while ostriches teach how to take some time off just for oneself so that one can go back to the world rejuvenated. Like most good children’s books, this too has a few lessons to offer to adults.
The book is also strikingly contemporary. Although the tools that Brown use like rhythmic poetry, and lesson-at-the-end-of-each-page are classical in essence, through this book he talks about mindfulness, connecting with nature and family, being a good listener, and finding beauty in unexpected places, which are definitively lessons young kids of today — who are ever so distracted by their iPads, and endless cartoon shows and a line of activities that parents plan for them — can surely benefit from.
Brown’s ability to draw his readers in with codes and clues that lead to a thrilling adventure which combine places, people, history, culture, architecture into complex stories, that unravel at a swift pace, is substituted here by a languid old school tempo of storytelling and some puzzle-solving for its young readers. An admirer of Dr Seuss’ books, Brown also manages to bring similar kind of charm, and wisdom to his young audience.
Beautifully illustrated by Hungarian illustrator, and graphic designer Susan Batori, each animal has a unique character of his own. Wild dancing boars are lost in the magical rhythm of their own dance, and a herd of majestic yet adorable elephants is depicted as being ‘afraid of the silliest things’, like most of us generally are. Batori’s drawings are whimsical and colourful and in some pages like in ‘Cricket Lullaby,’ it is rather sublime.
However, the most unique quality of this book is the music album that accompanies it. Through this book, Brown wants to introduce his young readers to classical music, therefore he has an album of varied compositions, each of which complements a page of the book. Through a free interactive phone app, which reportedly uses augmented reality when a phone’s camera is held over it, the music accompanying the animals in the story comes alive. It has different tunes for different characters of the book, be it a pensive one for the wonderous whale, or a happy one for the jaunty kangaroos. The music album reported has been composed by Brown, based on songs that were produced by him in his small studio when he was just a 20-something, and nowhere close to becoming a world-famous novelist that he is today. Of course, they have been revamped and updated and performed and recorded by the Zagreb Festival Orchestra in Croatia.
The book, however, has not been in news for all its merits, but for controversy concerning Brown’s personal life. In a lawsuit filed by Brown’s ex-wife, Blithe Brown, which accuses the author of withholding assets, the music album that accompanies Wild Symphony has been named. Brown, in a later interview, has countered his ex-wife’s claim. However, irrespective of who gets this ‘asset’, this book by Brown is a little gem for any kid’s bookshelves for sure.