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The Man with the Violin

by Kathy Stinson; Dusan Petricic, illus.

One January morning in 2007, renowned classical violinist Joshua Bell played his multimillion-dollar violin incognito in a Washington subway station during rush hour. The results of the experiment, conducted by The Washington Post, were startling. During the 45 minutes Bell played, only a handful of people stopped to listen. More surprising still, every single child who passed tried in vain to stop, but was pulled along by a harried adult. The Man with the Violin is author Kathy Stinson and illustrator Dusan Petricic's masterful fictional depiction of this true story.

Dylan and his mother are rushing through a subway station when the boy hears a violinist playing the most beautiful melody he has ever heard. Dylan begs his mother to stop and listen, but she pulls him into the belly of the station. At the end of the day, Dylan is still thinking about the music, while his mother has completely forgotten about the unassuming man playing the violin. She learns the identity of the musician only after hearing about him on the radio.

Stinson’s text, brimming with life, is filled with onomatopoeia that places the reader in the subway station with the bustling crowds. The text centres on sounds Dylan hears throughout the day, as interpreted by Petricic's watercolour illustrations. The violinist’s music, the noise of the crowd, the roar of a train, the buzz of the radio – all are represented as sweeping lines, squiggles, zigzags, and ribbons. Dylan and his mother are depicted in full colour, as are the violinist and his music, while the rest of the subway commuters are a swath of grey. The art bursts forth, creating a stunning visual expression of Stinson’s text.

A postscript by Bell, as well as a short biography of the musician, are an added bonus for readers interested in the source material. But even those too young to appreciate the backstory will recognize and enjoy the book’s message: life is much richer if we only take a few minutes to stop and listen.