This article about music and music history books for children was originally posted as a Colourful Keys page on June 6, 2017.
Think back to your childhood. Did you enjoy reading dry, dusty history books?
But history doesn’t have to be like that. Every kid loves a good story, and today’s music and music history books for children present those stories in a way that is engaging and inspiring.
Books are a great way to get your child excited about music.
Young children can have fun reading and enjoying the pictures while learning about the orchestra, the composers, and music history.
Older kids enjoy books with a fresh take on history, presenting facts and stories in a way that reaches today’s generation and makes music history relevant for them.
These are a few of my favourite music history books for children from my own lending library, and I recommend them all.
Disclaimer: This post contains some affiliate links. Buying from one of these links does not cost you anything extra, but I do receive a small referral fee for sending you which goes towards the cost of running this site.
Books About Music for Young Kids
Song of Middle C
Song of Middle C by Alison McGhee is a beautiful story of recital nerves almost getting the best of a student, and how she overcomes them with improvisation.
Zin! Zin! Zin! a Violin
Kids love Zin! Zin! Zin! a Violin by Lloyd Moss. The illustrations by Marjorie Priceman are beautiful, and the book helps children to learn about the instruments of the orchestra and gets them excited about all the different sounds. Use this as a jumping off point to learn more about musical instruments with your child.
There are many books about the composers, but this is one of the best. Becoming Bach by Tom Leonard tells the story of young Bach finding his way to music in a highly engaging way.
Meet the Orchestra
This is another book which teaches kids about musical instruments. I think Meet the Orchestra by Ann Hayes would be a great introduction before your first trip to see an orchestra perform.
The Musical Life of Gustav Mole
The Musical Life of Gustav Mole, illustrated by Kathryn Meyrick, tells the story of a mole born into a musical family. It explores instruments and ensembles through this tale, and also comes with a CD.
Do Re Mi: If You Can Read Music, Thank Guido d’Arezzo
One of my personal favourites! In Do Re Mi: If You Can Read Music, Thank Guido d’Arezzo, by Susan Roth, children are taken on a journey with the creator of our music notation system. I know, I know…that doesn’t sound like fun. But it honestly is an engaging story, while the illustration style is both beautiful and charming.
I Know a Shy Fellow Who Swallowed a Cello
This adorable and quirky take on that old favourite — There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly — will get your kids truly excited about the different instruments. Play the game of trying to guess what else will be swallowed to learn even more instrument names!
The Composer is Dead
I love Lemony Snicket, so I was super excited when I heard about this book. The Composer is Dead, by Lemony Snicket, with illustrations by Carson Ellis, comes with a CD of music composed by Nathaniel Stookey. It’s completely charming and explores each of the instruments of the orchestra, giving them their own quirks and personalities.
The Music of Life: Bartolomeo Cristofori & the Invention of the Piano
As a piano teacher I’m a little biased here, but I think the invention of the piano and how it works is fascinating. The illustrations in The Music of Life: Bartolomeo Cristofori & the Invention of the Piano (Hardcover) are absolutely gorgeous, and they’ve really brought this story to life. Highly recommend this one!
For show-and-tell reviews on 5 of the books from this article, you might enjoy this video:
Books About Music History for Older Kids
Why Beethoven Threw the Stew
In Why Beethoven Threw the Stew, Steven Isserlis makes the lives of great composers funny and brings them to life. This is the perfect book to get older kids engaged with music they’re learning that was written long ago, and helps them understand the historic context in a kid-friendly way.
Why Handel Waggled His Wig
Lives of the Musicians: Good Times, Bad Times, and What the Neighbours Thought
You could easily read Lives of the Great Musicians straight through – but even better would be to keep this on hand to look up the great composers when your child is learning one of their pieces. What a super way to connect with the music on a deeper level.
Bach, Beethoven and the Boys
Bach, Beethoven, and the Boys is “music history as it ought to be taught”. This book would be wonderful for those music students who need an overview of music history, but don’t want to read a textbook (who does, really?).
If It Ain’t Baroque
I’m always on the hunt for more books to add to my library, so if you find a great one, do let me know in the comments below. And for the latest-and-greatest on teaching music history to your students, check out the History section of my Music Theory page.