“Because” is a perfectly lovely picture book by the prolific children’s author Mo Willems. Though Willems is also an illustrator of note, he turned over that particular duty to Amber Ren for this piece, and the result of their combined talents is a testament to the beauty and power of teamwork as well as a superb rendering of the beauty and power of music — the power to inspire, to change lives, and to add wonder to our universe through our universal language.
“Because” is a musical and artistic journey through the stunning cause-and-effect relationships which eventuate in masterpieces of all shapes and sizes. We learn how Beethoven “caused” Schubert, who in turn was the cause of great symphonies, which in turn caused the inspiration of listeners, performers, and composers-to-be, which then caused the use of “instruments” like trains to transport people to concerts, works of art that reflect the love of music and musicians, and the wonderful effect of all these elements of cause-and-effect on one very special little girl who hears her first symphonic concert because of a ticket that becomes available because an uncle with a ticket got a cold.
This little book should rightly be read by thousands of children. They, too, might very well be affected like that little girl, and they, too, might be afforded the opportunity to reach magnificent heights of artistic expression. Or they might simply learn to love, understand, appreciate — and be inspired by — the works of the giants of music who have preceded us.
The illustrations work beautifully (teamwork!) with the text. The mauves and soft backgrounds serve to emphasize the focus of each page — on the instruments and the people who are either creating art or being inspired by it. Also, easy to overlook is the golden stream of notes on a staff that run through almost all the pages, representing the music coming from the wand of the orchestra conductor, the music wafting through the sick uncle’s phone as he lies in bed, even the music being hummed by a custodian cleaning the floor of the orchestra hall. After the concert, as the little girl is floating away, changed by the magic of the music, the color of the staff changes from gold to green. And Ren shows the green staff throughout the childhood of the girl, with not only musical notes but flowers that flourish more and more as she continues to practice and hone her musical talent. And the mauves in the background change to include green, until finally, at the end, her music inspires another young child, and the staff again changes color. It’s brilliantly and beautifully conceived and executed.
Willems comments in the trailer (see below), “I wanted to tell the story of how, when people agree that something is important enough to work on together, they can inspire and change lives.” He also sought out a young composer, Hilary Purrington, to create music to accompany the story.
Note to teachers: This is also a fabulous picture book to use when teaching cause and effect. A wonderful activity would be to have students read this book and write their own “Because” picture book, an homage to Mo Willems, so to speak. It could be about art, about literature, about sports. Because in every field, there are those who lead and inspire those around them. Including teachers. (Review by Jack Kramer and Pamela Kramer)
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Disney, the publisher, for review purposes.