In the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award–winning The Man with the Violin, Kathy Stinson and Dušan Petricic created fiction around an actual event: virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell’s anonymous performance of Bach in a Washington, D.C., subway station. That book celebrated the curiosity of children, and ultimately the beauty and significance of art in the life of one young boy. In what can be seen as a companion book, Stinson and Petricic’s latest effort portrays the life of the young Joshua Bell, his love of music and his first major foray into the world of classical performance.
Joshua’s musicality is recognized early by his parents, and as he learns to play the violin, stories pour from his instrument. Once again, Petricic manifests music as swirling rainbows of lines and blots that at times evoke the figures and stories Joshua imagines in the music, and at other points convey pure motion. The story quickly moves on to tell of the 12-year-old’s determination to win a competition that will give one young musician a chance to play with an orchestra.
The Dance of the Violin succeeds, not in trying to define inspiration or art (it can be argued that creating stories or images to explain music – the most abstract of the arts – may actually limit the appreciation of a piece) but by showing the effort and practice it takes to create great art. Joshua’s enthusiasm and talent has to be channelled, including through the discipline imposed by the gigantic metronome that helps him play the notes correctly. Yet even after intense preparation, the young musician makes mistakes and almost crumbles in competition (his bow appropriately dribbles a black blot on the page). How Joshua overcomes his missteps and plays with a passion that goes well beyond hitting the right notes is the key to the story.
Just as Petricic brilliantly portrays defeat in the slumped shoulders of Joshua, the intensity and delight that music-making brings to the boy is captured by his deft illustrations: these lift the story far beyond the text and make the reader appreciate the impact of art.