Snicket, L. (2009). The Composer is Dead. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
Music teachers! Pay attention! This book is wonderful for you (and for others, but especially for you).
The composer is dead (just in case you couldn’t tell be the title). Since the death is suspicious, an investigator is called in to solve the mystery. He questions the various instruments that make up an orchestra, searching for the most likely suspect. What follows is an introduction to the orchestra and all the instruments that it includes.
This picturebook includes fun definitions and twisted humor many fans of A Series of Unfortunate Events will recognize. It would be an ideal read to share before beginning book one of the series as a read aloud or as a fun recommendation to a child who enjoyed the 2004 film. Overall, the story is on the longer side (but that won’t be a problem if a student is already a fan of Snicket’s other books). But for some readers, it may be intimidating. But do not fear, the book comes with its own solution: A CD that includes Snicket narrating the story as well as original orchestral accompaniment by Nathaniel Stookey.
Activities to Do with the Book:
A wonderful read aloud, a teacher could choose between reading the book him or herself with musical accompaniment in the background or having students listen to Snicket’s narration which allows students to hear the author’s voice, but also includes breaks to share samples of the type of music. (The narrative on the CD would take about 30 minutes) and students could also be allowed to create movements or interpretive dances that reflect the tones of the different styles of classical music incorporated into the narrative.
Another option would be to have students listen while drawing how they see the music or one of the scenes. To incorporate poetry, students could research one instrument and decide what animal or action the instrument most sounds like and right a poem incorporating metaphors.
This would also be a wonderful introduction to music lessons or to prepare students for a field trip to watch an orchestra perform. It includes a lot of important vocabulary, for example the different orchestral sections and instruments and a list of various composers that students could research individually or in small groups.
“The Composer is dead.
“Composer” is a word which here means “a person who sits in a room, muttering and humming and figuring out what notes the orchestra is going to play.” This is called composing. But last night, the Composer was not muttering. He was not humming. He was not moving, or even breathing.”
“The Inspector was a very handsome and intelligent person, not unlike myself.”
“I will solve this terrible crime against humanity and/or classical music.”
“…we suspect the murder was committed by a foreigner.”
“A foreigner,” the Inspector repeated. “What say you, French Horns? You have a strange accident.”
The French Horns did not understand the question, and began murmuring a story about the Old Country.”