Illustrations by Sally Wern Comport
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: May 3, 2016
Ada Ríos grew up in Cateura, a small town in Paraguay built on a landfill. When a new music teacher arrives, the students begin to dream of a wonderful orchestra. The problem is that musical instruments are hard to find and very expensive. Even if the students do get some of the few coveted instruments, they would probably be stolen. Still wanting the children to have something special, the teacher decides to make instruments out of materials found in the trash. The recycled instruments change the lives of the children and the town forever, playing in venues around the world.
I wanted to like this book more than I did. For sure, the subject material is quite interesting with numerous news stories having been made about the Recycled Orchestra. There is a great deal of pathos within the story and one that would help young children to understand things like extreme poverty, ingenuity, and the importance of music in a society. Yet, it is hard to capture any of those, let alone all three, in a single 32-page picture book. When one writes about music, a very specific form of art, I don't think that there is a way to fully capture the essence of the musicality. With this book in particular, I had a hard time connecting with any of the characters. Despite the title, I never felt a connection to Ada and found myself being pulled out of the story with each page turn. The illustrations are vibrant and paralleled the text with mixed media, but it wasn't enough to carry the story. Despite my love for the picture book biography and picture book non-fiction books, I think that this is one that would have been better served with a bit more length, more details, and a stronger main character or characters for the reader to feel real empathy towards.