Ada's Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay
by Susan Hood; Illustrated by Sally Wern Comport
Simon & Schuster (May 3, 2016)
Nonfiction * Music * Multicultural * Recycling
Audience: Grades 2 to 5
ink to the book in Spanish
About the book:
From award-winning author Susan Hood and illustrator Sally Wern Comport comes the extraordinary true tale of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay, an orchestra made up of children playing instruments built from recycled trash.
Ada Ríos grew up in Cateura, a small town in Paraguay built on a landfill. She dreamed of playing the violin, but with little money for anything but the bare essentials, it was never an option...until a music teacher named Favio Chávez arrived. He wanted to give the children of Cateura something special, so he made them instruments out of materials found in the trash. It was a crazy idea, but one that would leave Ada—and her town—forever changed. Now, the Recycled Orchestra plays venues around the world, spreading their message of hope and innovation.
Today, I am excited to welcome author, Susan Hood to Kid Lit Frenzy to talk about her new book, Ada's Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay.
Video of The Recycled Orchestra of Cateura:
After reading Ada's Violin, I had to go on-line and see one of the videos about the
Recycled Orchestra. What led you to write Ada's story and were you able to see the Orchestra perform live?
Editor Christian Trimmer at Simon and Schuster deserves all the credit for the idea. He
saw Bob Simon’s profile of the Orchestra on 60 Minutes and thought it would make an
amazing picture book. He called my agent and asked if she could suggest an author. She recommended me and I’m forever grateful that she did.
I have not yet seen the Orchestra live, but trying to find a way to bring them to the Northeast is among my fondest hopes.
Several years ago, I was working with a group of children and doing an extension activity for a book we had read. The main character liked to recycle and she also played the tuba. For our activity, we created instruments from recycled materials. Of course our instruments were not truly playable. I can't imagine creating actual, functioning instruments. What did you learn about these individuals who create the instruments?
It’s astonishing, isn’t it? I think we’ve all made those shoebox/rubber band guitars and cardboard tube kazoos, but imagine playing Mozart on them! It all started when Favio Chávez remembered a favorite Argentine band called Les Luthiers, famous for its home-made musical instruments. Chávez shared the idea with some of the gancheros on the landfill, particularly a quiet, ingenious carpenter named Nicolás “Cola” Gómez. Gómez never imagined making instruments like these, but he discovered a few broken instruments in the trash and fiddled around with ways to fix them. For example, he found a drum with a big hole through the middle and repaired it with an X-ray film. Gómez and another man named Tito Romero made flutes from drain pipes, cellos from oil drums, and violins from baking pans, tinkering around with the sounds. Chávez and later the kids helped the builders tune the instruments.
In writing this story, what was most inspiring or even life changing for you? As you have shared Ada's story with students, what kind of reception has it received?
Writing this book was life-changing. I try not to take things for granted, but let’s face it. I have clean running water and electricity at the flick of a wrist. There’s green grass outside my door. It sounds ridiculous to say, but my family and I don’t think twice about phone service, air-conditioned transportation, police, firefighters, public schools, and garbage collection. Or something as simple and life-changing as shoes. It was shocking to realize that 20,000 people live on a garbage dump, with kids running barefoot in toxic chemicals and polluted waters, while their parents make the equivalent of $2 a day working 14 hour-days in 100-degree heat. (And it’s even more shocking to realize that this is not an isolated case. The more research I did I found that people live on garbage dumps all over the world—in Mexico, India, the Philippines, and on and on.)
It gets worse. The people of Cateura face a natural disaster every year when the river that runs through the town floods, causing hundreds of families to evacuate their tin shacks. What was a mountain of garbage becomes floating garbage. And yet, despite ALL of this, these people remain hopeful and dedicated to the art of making music for the world. Their story was inspiring in another way. I’ve always been an advocate of the arts, but their story vividly demonstrates the POWER of the arts. Music gave these aimless, forsaken kids with a sad past, a dangerous present, and a bleak future something to focus on, to strive toward, to hope for. For many, it was the only beauty in their lives. And now, it is a source of great pride that is helping to rebuild their lives and their community. Sharing their story has been a huge privilege. Kids are dumbfounded and adults are often teary. As am I!
Do you play an instrument? And if you could play a recycled instrument, which one would you want to play?
I used to play a little piano as a child, but since I’ve loved listening to my daughter play flute, I think I’d like to try that.
You currently have a number of books coming out this summer and fall. Any other projects in the works that you can talk about and do you plan to do any further nonfiction titles?
Yes, 2016 is a busy year! Matthew Cordell and I just published a companion book to ROOTING FOR YOU called LEAPS AND BOUNCE with Hyperion. It’s a rhyming celebration of growing up with a little nonfiction about frog metamorphosis woven inside.
In July, Mary Lundquist and I are publishing a sequel to MISSION: New Baby called MISSION: Back to School with Random House. Both books are set up as top-secret information manuals for kids setting off on new missions, like having a new sibling or starting school.
In November, HarperCollins is publishing THE FIX-IT MAN, about a little boy who loves to build, tinker, and invent Rube Goldberg machines with his sister. Illustrated by Arree Chung, it’s all about creative problem-solving.
I have two firsts coming up in 2017—my first picture book with Candlewick (more about that later) and my first middle-grade book called LIFEBOAT 12, a historical novel based on true events. It will be published by my ADA’S VIOLIN editor at Simon and Schuster.
I spent several weeks last summer in England researching the book at the National Archives, the British Library, and the National Maritime Museum. I find that I LOVE doing research and look forward to doing many more nonfiction books.
Can you describe your writing process? Do you have any place that you prefer to write in?
I don’t necessarily write every day, but I think about my books all the time—on walks and bike rides, out gardening, in the middle of the night. My husband is a teacher and gets up at 5:30 am; I get some of my best ideas in that pre-dawn hour when I’m half asleep. Once I get an idea, I write like a maniac and can go hours without stop. I like to write wherever I can sit in the sun and look out the window—at my kitchen counter, in our little library/den or in the summer on our screened porch. I save every revision (by date) and share my stories with a critique group I’ve been with since 2009.
What is your favorite indie bookstore, where is it and why do you like it?
The Dinosaur’s Paw in Newtown, CT; R. J. Julia in Madison, CT; The Hickory Stick Bookshop in Washington Depot, CT; and Books of Wonder in New York City. I love Indie bookstores for the depth of knowledge and level of service they offer readers and for the support and community they offer authors and illustrators. They are my people!
Thank you Susan for stopping by and sharing about such a powerful story. If you are interested in ADA'S VIOLIN, enter the rafflecopter below to win a copy in English or Spanish. Winner must have a US mailing address and be 13 years old or older.
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