Usborne Musical Books’ The Planets Illustrated by Morgan Huff & Written by Fiona Watt

We absolutely love a sound book in our house. My son, at age 8, doesn’t look at them as much as he used to, but my 5 year old can’t get enough of them. In fact her current bedtime favourite book is this one from Usborne Books: The Planets, illustrated by Morgan Huff, written by Fiona Watt with music arranged and produced by Anthony Marks.

The Planets is based on the music of composer Gustav Holst that has the same name. He wrote a suite for the orchestra that was inspired by the planets of our solar system. In Holst’s Planets Suite, each of the seven movements is named after one of the planets in the solar system and each movement has a very distinct theme, and mood to it, inspired by the planet that movement is named after. For example, Mars, named after the God of War, is very combative, fiery, warlike and the music for this movement although it starts quietly, builds quickly to become loud, fast, insistent with lots of clashing notes, and complicated rhythms. Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system, and in astrology people born under Jupiter have been associated with being noble of character and the music has a very stately, noble character. In fact the tune to the hymn I Vow To Thee My Country comes from this movement of the Planets Suite. The music to Mercury, on the other hand, the planet named after a Winged Messenger, is a very fast movement. It is in a time signature of 6/8 (a time signature tells the musician how many beats there are to be in each bar, and this time signature means that there are 6 quaver beats, or 1/8th notes in the USA, in each bar), which lends the movement a dance-like quality. The music for each movement of The Planets Suite is different, Holst painting a picture of what he feels each planet is like using just the music to do this.

This book is based on Holst’s Planets Suite, and is a good introduction to the work for very young children. There is an excerpt from each of the movements within this very short book. The book is beautifully illustrated by Morgan Huff, a picture of each of the 7 planets from Holst’s suite features in the book, sometimes just one planet on a double-page spread, sometimes there is more than one. And of course the depiction of each of the planets in the book matches Holst’s depiction.

There is a button to press to play a short musical excerpt from the Planet’s Suite matching the planet on that page. This is a very touch sensitive button- we have had some sound books in the past where you have had to press really hard to activate the button, but this one is nice and easy for even small hands to make work. It’s a nice one for children to be able to look at and read for themselves. And a nice introduction for young children to the concept of cause and effect- I press this button and music comes out of the book, I did that!

The music for each of the planets is very short- perfect for the attention spans of small children. Having a shorter extract helps keep your child listening to the extract rather than just trying to get on with pressing the next button, and the next and the next. Or maybe it’s just my children who desperately want to push as many buttons as they can in a very short space of time! Having said that, a QR code has been added to the back cover of the book, and if you follow that QR code you can go to a website where you can explore The Planet’s Suite more. So the book provides both an initial extract of the work and shows you were you can listen to and find out more about it.

The things I like about this book are:

  • As a sound book aimed at young children it is great that the button to trigger music playing works with a light press, so small children can make the music sound by themselves. Gives them a little independence and helps make this music book one of their favourites (maybe)!
  • This is a board book, so it’s robust and can cope with how, um, hands on shall we say, children can be! It will not come apart if it is put in your child’s mouth! – A little word of caution here though, there is a button battery in the book (behind plastic casing secured by screws, but still) so don’t leave very small children unattended with the book as button batteries can be dangerous for small children.
  • There’s an on off switch so the batteries won’t run out too quickly.
  • The book features every planet, and so gives an excerpt from each of the movements, from Holst’s Planets Suite so you get a flavour of the whole piece.
  • There are few words on each page, so very small children, don’t have to wait a long time while you read each page before they can press the next button.

There are a couple of things I am less keen on though:

  • This is both a strength and weakness – as I mentioned above, there are not many words in the book. At all. There are just a couple of sentences, at most, about each planet. So in terms of information about the planets or the piece of music itself, there’s not a lot of information meaning this is a book that your child may grow out of relatively quickly.
  • I think the book is missing a trick by not having maybe a page right at the end where it tells you a little more about the music this book is based on. It does say on the front “Press the buttons to hear the music by Gustav Holst.” And the QR code on the back cover I discuss above. But that is it, the only real mention of Holst, or that the book features music from a famous, and brilliant, piece of orchestral music.

As you can see from above, while there are some things I am not so keen on about the book, there are more positives. This is definitely a book for young children- mostly children who cannot read by themselves yet. My 5 year old loves it because she can dance along to the music, but it’s not a story book. I would recommend this book for 5-6 year olds and under.

The book, at the time of writing, is available on Amazon for £10.95 which I feel is a little expensive given that it is a book your children will grow out of. I would suggest waiting until the book is on special offer unless you have a music and space mad little one, in which case this is a fantastic choice!

If you have enjoyed reading my blog post, thank you. I am always looking for ideas for the blog, so would love to hear from you with suggestions for topics you would like me to cover in the future. Also, if you would be interested in supporting me to keep this blog running, buying the books to review here, and supplies to make the DIY instruments, for example, I would be absolutely delighted if you would consider buying me a coffee using the following link: Buy Me A Coffee Thank you!!

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