A lot or a little?
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Wild Symphony is an interactive picture book by Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code. It's an unusual mix of animals, music, puzzles, and 20 poems whose rhyming couplets describe individual animals' behavior. Each spread also includes one or two aphorisms, or life lessons, drawn from how animals face their challenges and anxieties. The interactive aspect involves a QR code you can scan with a smartphone to access a free app that will let you hear a snippet of music on each animal's page. The music is part of a symphony the author composed (he was a musician before he was a novelist) that's played by the Zagreb Festival Orchestra in Croatia and is available on a simultaneously released album titled Wild Symphony. There's also a "hidden game" in the book involving search-and-find puzzles -- a bee that appears somewhere in every scene, and letters that form anagrams of instrument names -- and a final coded message from Brown in his author's note. The whimsical digital cartoon art by Susan Batori and interactive elements will help keep kids engaged.
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What's the story?
Twenty short poems about the behavior and habitats of different animals, birds, insects, and sea creatures add up to a WILD SYMPHONY in the end. Each rhyming poem describes a distinctive characteristic of each animal, and each spread includes a little life lesson displayed on a sign or banner held up by Maestro Mouse, who introduces the story on its first page. Readers will catch a glimpse of a musical instrument on each animal's page, and can access samples of music related to each animal via a QR code to scan with a smartphone to get a free augmented-reality app. The final double gatefold shows all the animals playing their instruments in an orchestra led by Maestro Mouse.
Is it any good?
This lively collection of poems about animals will appeal to kids, but the concept is a bit muddled. There's no story arc, except that animals with instruments seem to be headed somewhere and end up playing in an orchestra together on the final double gatefold spread -- not a big surprise since that's telegraphed in the cover illustration. The life lessons that appear on little signs on each spread are both a little heavy-handed and a bit of a stretch in how they relate to both human and animal behavior. The added layer of interactive musical samples in Wild Symphony is clever, but the text isn't really about music or musical instruments. However, the endpapers show drawings of all the instruments and their names. Puzzles are thrown in, too. The whole package seems overloaded. Still, it may introduce kids to orchestral music, it's full of positive messages, and it has great art.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the animals, birds, and sea creatures in Wild Symphony. Which are your favorites? What new things did you learn about any of the animals?
Have you ever heard a symphony before? How do all the different musical instruments create one piece of music? What does the conductor do?
How do the musical pieces remind you of what each animal does? Can you make up a tune that would sound like the actions or personality of your dog, cat, bird, or turtle?
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