A biographical picture book centred on the life of highly acclaimed and celebrated Canadian classical pianist Glenn Gould, Sarah Ellis (Outside In) and Nancy Vo’s (The Outlaw) As Glenn As Can Be paints a decidedly sensitive, engaging and moving portrait of the artist. Opening with the line “Glenn is a boy who knows what he likes”, As Glenn As Can Be offers readers a view of young Glenn Gould’s life and the world surrounded him- as well as Glenn’s particular likes and dislikes. For example, we learn that Glenn likes “the company of animals”, “funny hats and funny voices”, and “the patterns in music”, but does not like bullying (being called weird), the cold, or parties. Glenn also does not like being able to practice the piano for only four hours per day because one thing he truly loves is playing the piano! And as readers soon learn, people all over the world soon come to love to see and listen to Glenn play.
The framing of the story in pairing Glenn’s likes and dislikes works seamlessly and thoughtfully to focus on Glenn’s decision to step away from lauded public performance. Illness, cold concert halls, and the need for a silent audience are just some of the factors leading to that ultimate decision. Readers see the move away from audiences, travel and noise to Glenn finding a kind of satisfaction, perhaps even peace, playing in a “perfect place”: an “empty concert hall”, “making music for an audience that isn’t there”, with no one “to please but himself”. With Ellis’ sensitive and refined yet conversational storytelling and use of focused repetition, and Vo’s dream-like artwork, with its sometimes melancholy and muted palette, As Glenn As Can Be presents a captivating, singular story. Readers who love exploring picture book biographies along the lines of Enormous Smallness: A Story of E.E. Cummings or Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli, or readers more specifically interested in learning about the lives of musical prodigies, As Glenn As Can Be is a perfect pick. Note: The book’s back matter includes an Author’s Note about Glenn Gould (recommended reading!) as well as links to further reading (for both kids and adults)- as well as suggestions for listening.
I received a copy of this title courtesy of Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own. Title has been published and is currently available.