Listen: How Evelyn Glennie, a Deaf Girl, Changed Percussion – Perfect Picture Book Friday

Attention musicians! Well, really anyone who wants to be inspired by a woman who created “her own story,” who didn’t “wait for things to happen” to her, who “made her own opportunities.”

Text ©Shannon Stocker Illustration ©Devon Holzwarth

Here is Evelyn, enjoying life on her family’s farm in Aberdeen, Scotland. This image took me back to bottle feeding lambs on my own family’s farm when I was a child, but I digress. As soon as I read the text, with its encantatory quality, I realized that it purposefully mirrored the lyricism and strength of its subject, and that it was going to be a treat to read:

This is a story of music.

Of obstacles.

Of strength and hard work.

Of all you can accomplish when you dream.

If you only…shhhh….

listen.

Evelyn Glennie had a gift for music, playing piano by ear by age eight, and clarinet by age ten. She lived in a world filled with music, where her father played accordion and her mother played the pipe organ. As she grew, her hearing failed. Doctors told her she would never again play music, and that she would need to go to a school for the deaf.

But Evelyn would have none of that, and her parents stood behind her decision. She wore hearing aids and attended school with all of her peers. At secondary school, Evelyn discovered percussion, but standard tests for musical aptitude tested only the “ears’ ability to listen. Not her heart’s. And not her body’s.”

Again Evelyn was not deterred. She begged for percussion lessons until one teacher listened. Thus began Evelyn’s journey of discovering how to listen through her body. Turning the vibrations she felt into music.

Text ©Shannon Stocker Illustration ©Devon Holzwarth

Over time, she became so sensitive to sound that she could tune an instrument based on where she felt the vibrations in her body. When she graduated from secondary school, she auditioned for the Royal Academy of Music in London—

and was rejected.

No one believed a deaf musician could have a career in music.

Ha!

Evelyn fought for a second audition, insisted the board evaluate her skills, and was accepted. After her success, every music school in Great Britain changed its rules. No would would ever again be turned away simply because they had a disability.

So what did her future hold? Winning a national competition, performing the first solo percussion concerto at the Royal Academy, recording albums and winning Grammy awards, performing in more than forty countries, and being knighted by the Queen of England.

In later years, Evelyn remembered

the audiologist who thought people could only hear with their ears.

He was wrong.

“Losing my hearing,” she said, “made me a better listener.”

One of the lessons here, folks? Don’t listen to the naysayers.

Listen

to your heart.

With a narrative filled with scads of onomatopoeia, as is due a percussionist in a story about sound, and swirling, color-rich images that evoke music on every page, this book is inspirational and educational, especially for those in the hearing community who may hold false beliefs about the abilities of those who are deaf. Clearly, there is more than one way to hear, if we choose to listen.

Activities:

The Thunderstorm Game – Half of the group sits on chairs in a circle. The other half sits on the floor inside the circle with their eyes closed. Those sitting one chairs should watch the person on their right. When that person performs an action, the person on the left copies it. (Like the wave going around in a circle.) Follow this sequence:

  • Rest hands on lap
  • Rub thumb and forefinger together
  • Rub thumb and all fingers together
  • Rub hands together
  • Snap fingers
  • Clap hands
  • Slap thighs
  • Stomp feet
  • Slap thighs
  • Clap hands
  • Snap fingers
  • Rub hands
  • Rub thumb and all fingers together
  • Rub thumb and forefinger together
  • Rest hands on lap

After the first round, have the kids sitting on the floor swap seats with those on chairs. When each group has had a chance to listen with their eyes closed, ask them what they heard. At what point could they “hear” with their bodies, not just their ears?

***********

Watch Evelyn Glennie’s TED Talk about learning how to listen. But it’s about so much more, like the difference between being an artist or a technician.

Take a drumming lesson from Evelyn Glennie on Youtube.

Pair this book with Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illus. by Frank Morrison. How do they use onomatopoeia to create their musical worlds?

Assemble your own set of percussion instruments, including things that shake, like plastic jars/pill bottles or small cardboard boxes that can contain dried beans, lentils, or rice; things that ding or clang; things that can be drummed, including buckets, large plastic bins, or pots and pans; things that can be used like drumsticks, including hair brushes, wooden spoons, whisks, etc. See how many different sounds you can make with different objects. Make up a tune using your instruments. (Please do this outside, LOL).

Title: Listen: How Evelyn Glennie, A Deaf Girl, Changed Percussion

Author: Shannon Stocker

Illustrator: Devon Holzwarth

Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2022

Ages: Elementary school

Themes: music, deafness, listening

For more perfect picture book recommendations, please visit Susanna Hill’s website.

12 thoughts on “Listen: How Evelyn Glennie, a Deaf Girl, Changed Percussion – Perfect Picture Book Friday

  1. Mona Voelkel says:

    Listening is the key to so much, isn’t it, and I find the story of Evelyn so powerful. So happy that her parents listened to her at every turn. The concept of “listening with your body” from the book and your wonderful activity is something I will try today during breaks. A beautiful book and review.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Thank you, Mona. Listening is a skill we can all get better at, don’t you think? In her TED talk, Evelyn says that her mission is to get people to listen, really listen, to each other. Quite an admirable goal.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      I really like her spunk! And I really like how she explains the difference between being playing like an artist and playing like a technician. It “resonated” with me. I think you’ll love this book!

  2. Patricia Tilton says:

    What an encouraging story for young readers. I have a friend who’s grandchild wears cochlear implants. Perfect book for him. It’s hard to find really uplifting stories for children with hearing impairments — my daughter is hearing impaired and would have benefited from a story like this. Have you read “Let’s Hear It for Amigal.” Another great story that would pair well with this one.. Don’t know if it is still in print. And, I absolutely loved your group activity!

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