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Arts and Culture

The Children's Bookshelf: Hold On to Your Music

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This is the Children’s Bookshelf and I’m Sue Ann Martin

Hold On To Your Music: The Inspiring True Story of the Children of Willesden Lane written by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen, adapted by Emil Sher and illustrated by Sonia Possentini is a beautifully-designed picture book about one Jewish girl’s experiences during the Second World War.

Lisa, a young pianist who loves music, is bewildered when her piano teacher tells her he is no longer allowed to give lessons to Jewish children. Her parents explain that things are rapidly changing in Vienna and they have decided to send her to London where she will be safe until the war is over. Her mother tells her to hold on to her music as it will be her best friend.  In a double spread illustration Lisa is shown with a brave face, a suitcase of belongings and her sheet music in hand saying goodbye to her parents before boarding a train full of children for the over-night trip to London.

On arrival the children are driven to various safe havens by Kindertransport workers. Lisa is placed at Willesden Lane house where she is welcomed by Mrs. Cohen and the children. However, it is not until she finds an old piano resting in a corner that she feels comfortable.

Mrs. Cohen encourages her to play and soon realizes that she is a prodigy. When the war comes to London the piano is taken to the basement where it and Lisa will be safer. The double spread illustration here is heart-tugging as Lisa is shown playing Beethoven louder and louder in defiance of the noise of the bombs that are falling.

Mrs. Cohen encourages her to apply to the Royal Academy of Music and she is accepted. Another striking double spread illustration shows her taking a bow in front of a standing ovation after her musical debut.

HOLD ON TO YOUR MUSIC: The Inspiring True Story of the Children of Willesden Lane written by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen, adapted by Emil Sher and illustrated by Sonia Possentini is a well told story of courage, determination and the love of music for children 4-8 years of age (Little Brown and Company, 2021).

The Children’s Bookshelf is a production of WCMU. Links to the podcast and the activity questions can be found at Children’s Bookshelf dot org.   

Activity Questions for Hold On To Your Music: The Inspiring True Story of the Children of Willesden Lane.

Activity Questions for Hold On To Your Music: The Inspiring True Story of the Children of Willesden Lane.

Lisa’s mother tells her daughter in this story that music will be her best friend. How can music be a friend? Think about it. Do you play a musical instrument? Have you ever sung in a choir? Do you enjoy dancing to music? Do you simply enjoy listening to a favorite song? How do any or all of these experiences make you feel? Draw a picture of you enjoying the company of your best friend music.

Study the powerful double-spread illustration of Lisa playing the piano in the basement of the orphanage as bombs are falling. It shows how determined she is to drown out the noise of the bombs. Look at her facial expression, muscle tone and grasp of the piano keys. If you were to give this illustration a title what would it be?

Older readers may want to know more about the following: Mona Golabek, memoir, Kindertransport, Willesden house and the Royal Academy of Music. For starters be sure to read Historical Background and Golabek’s open letter to the reader at the back of this book.