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The Children's Bookshelf: Playing at the Border: A Story of Yo-Yo Ma - September 20, 2021


Playing at the Border: A Story of Yo-Yo Ma written in a soft lyrical manner by Joanna Ho and richly illustrated by Teresa Martinez is a joyful celebration of a musical prodigy who went on to become a brilliant cellist and caring artist who could bring people and cultures together through music. His Bach Project during which he performed Bach’s six suites for the cello was presented in 36 locations world-wide.

This picture book biography tells young readers that Yo-Yo Ma was born in France to a family of musicians and moved to the United States when he was eight years of age. Over the years he became a graceful and popular musician playing for Presidents, winning nineteen Grammy Awards, becoming a United Nations Messenger of Peace and being honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Young readers will enjoy the story about Yo-Yo Ma’s cello---which was lovingly named Petunia! Petunia also has an international background in that she was built with materials and by craftsmen all over the globe. Petunia’s bow is made from a tree that only grows in Brazil, her fingerboard is crafted from ebony, a West African tree and her yellow highlights come from curry powder found in India. The cello was designed and crafted in Italy in 1733.

On April 12, 2019, Yo-Yo Ma again performed Bach this time at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. The next day he participated in a day of action on the border between the United States and Mexico. It was a celebration of people, cultures and all the things that make us one.

Playing at the Border: A Story of Yo-Yo Ma written by Joanna Ho and illustrated by Teresa Martinez tells the story of a musician who gives us beautiful music and a love for the many cultures of the world. It is designed for readers 5-8 years of age (Harper/ an imprint of Harper Collins).

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 Playing at the Border: A Story of Yo-Yo Ma

Yo-Yo Ma’s cello was given the name of Petunia by one of his students. Do you have a favorite instrument, toy, stuffed animal, doll or some sort of car that you called or are calling by a pet name? Why did you give this item that name? Draw a picture of that item for your bedroom----be sure to put the nickname somewhere on your picture.

Have you ever heard Yo-Yo Ma play his cello? With the help of a parent or a teacher go online and find Yo-Yo Ma performing alone or in concert with an ensemble. Close your eyes and enjoy. How did his music make you feel?

The illustrations in this book are full of color and energy. Take some time to look at the illustrations again. What is your favorite illustration in this book? Why? How does this illustration help you understand the story?

Sue Ann Martin is professor emerita of Communication and Dramatic Arts and the founding and past Dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts at Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. She first became interested in children’s literature when she wrote her PhD thesis on the oral characteristics of the Caldecott Award-winning children’s books. Her PhD is in Speech and Interpretation with a cognate in Early Childhood Education. She went on to review children’s books for the Detroit Free Press, write three popular resource books for teachers regarding children’s books and the creative process. She also reviewed newly-published books for Arts Almanac specials on WCMU Public Radio. Her 2002 children’s books special for WCMU won a Merit Award in Special Interest Programming from the Michigan Association of Broadcasters.