Willems, Mo. (2019). Because. Illustrated by Amber Ren. 40 pgs. Hyperion, New York, NY.
A chain of contributions demonstrates the skill, collaboration, and community support required to stage a modern orchestral concert, which inspires a young concert goer to create her own music. It all begins with the music of a long dead composer, who inspired some modern day people to form an orchestra and put on a concert. A young girl attends the concert and, in turn, is inspired to create her own music. A series of causal effects depicts the diverse skill sets and tasks involved in staging a concert from conception to performance. The story pays equal respect to performers and the many behind-the-scenes people who contribute to an artistic event, including organizers, graphic designers, theater workers, and librarians. “Because the orchestra librarian had copies of the score - / the orchestra rehearsed”. The text pauses mid-story for two double-page spreads, which demonstrate, through a moment of anticipation then a burst of warm color and swirling strokes, the moment the lights dim and the music fills the theater. The second part of the book follows the young girl as she studies and writes music and matures into a career musician. Often, successful artists and musicians are portrayed as gifted or special - a description that alienates young readers from connecting with their experience. Because describes success as the result of hard work. “Because a man had practiced since he was a kid - / he was asked to join. // Because a woman studied night and day - / she, too, was asked to play.“ Willems even acknowledges that recognition is not guaranteed. “Over time, the woman became very good - because she worked very hard. / One night, her music was discovered - because she was also very lucky”. The characters are relatable because they are realistic. Readers will also see themselves visually reflected in colorful cartoon illustrations of people with various skin colors, and from many ancestries and cultures. The featured girl has dark hair and tan skin. As the classical music world has yet to be fully inclusive to musicians and concert goers of color, these illustrated choices are particularly meaningful. Because sheds light on an under-appreciated field while simultaneously celebrating the universal art of process.
In a society that devalues the arts by making it nearly impossible to make a living in the field, this simple, poetic picture book pays tribute to those who make it happen anyway.