Friday, January 15, 2010

Review: Zeezok Publishing

I am always on the look out for biographies to read to my Schnickelfritz.  A lot of them deal with rather rugged men  (Daniel Boone, David Livingston, etc).  My thinking was the action in the story would keep my wiggly seven-year-old's attention.   I wasn't sure how he would accept the two books from Zeezok Publishing's Great Musician Series::  The Young Brahms and   Franz Schubert and his Merry Friends.   With the exception of Brahms' Lullaby (actually titled Cradle Song), I wasn't even sure I could name one of their compositions.  Fritz was also familiar with this piece from way back in his crib days (he refers to it as his night-night music.) Since that was our only point of reference, we started with The Young Brahms.

The author enticed into the story by following an organ grinder and his monkey through the streets of Hamburg.   In the listening crowd we meet young Johannes Brahms.  He could immediately play the tunes on his little flute after hearing them.   As we learned more about the title character and his home my Fritz had a "eureka" moment.  "Hey! That boy is seven and he wants to play the piano, just like me."   My son was hooked, and the story continued to reel him in as we read about a city-wide fire and learned that the young boy was run over by a carriage shortly before his first public concert. 

Our Special Offer package included the two softcover biographies, study guides for each book, and a cd of both composer's music .  Both books contain sheet music that your student may be able to play or you can listen to the track and try to follow the printed notes.  

The study guide includes a map, a timeline of the composer's life and world events that occurred during that time,  reading comprehension questions, and tidbits of interest to flesh out the story.   I did not use the reading comprehension questions with Fritz.  Some of them were very explicit. For example: With what toy did Johannes enjoy playing?  Unless you're studying to be a detective, I don't find it necessary to pick up on such details.  Instead I had Fritz list the ways he and Brahms were similar and dissimilar.   I may show him how to put the information in a Venn diagram and we can compare and contrast Schubert as we read his story.   

I really enjoyed reading the Tidbits of Interest and Character Qualities.  These might help you adapt the story for older students if you were sharing the story with your whole family.   We used this book as a read-aloud so I read the tidbits ahead of time and could refer to the ones I felt were appropriate as we reached that point in the story.  There were also a few recipes you could make ahead of time and then sample during reading time.    The Character qualities can help you point out admirable qualities displayed within the story:  persistence, obedience, leadership, etc.  Both the Tidbits and Character Qualities provide the applicable page numbers from the book.

The chapters are a little bit long to complete in one sitting--at least they were for my Schnickelfritz.  However,  when I did put the book down my Schnickelfritz was sufficiently engaged and interested enough to ask "What happens next."   

The special offer we received (2 books, 2 study guides, 1 cd) is available here for $35.80.  Other composer titles available in sets or individually include:

  • Sebastian Bach, The Boy from Thuringia

  • Ludwig Beethoven and the Chiming Tower Bells

  • Frederic Chopin, Son of Poland, Early Years

  • Frederic Chopin, Son of Poland, Later Years

  • Stephen Foster and His Little Dog Tray

  • Handel at the Court of Kings

  • Joseph Haydn, The Merry Little Peasant

  • Edward MacDowell and His Cabin in the Pines

  • Mozart, The Wonder Boy

  • Robert Schumann and Mascot Ziff

You can read what my fellow Crewmates thought of their Zeezok Publishing products here. 

Disclaimer: I received a free Brahms/Schubert special offer from Zeezok Publishing for the purposes of completing this review.  I received no other compensation.

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