As Glenn As Can Be
As Glenn As Can Be
… he likes to play the piano. No. Glenn loves to play the piano. He loves it more than anything. It’s as exciting as fast boating. It’s as fun as solving a really hard puzzle. It’s a way of saying what he wants to say without using words. Playing the piano is when Glenn gets to be totally and completely Glenn.
People like to listen to Glenn play. No. They love to listen to Glenn play. Glenn’s music makes them feel big feelings — sad or happy, loved or lonely, quite or full of beans.
As Glenn as Can Be, written by Governor General’s Literary Award–winning author Sarah Ellis and illustrated by acclaimed artist Nancy Vo, is an engaging, timeless and cleverly crafted picture book that deftly captures the unique essence of child prodigy and world-renowned classical Canadian musician Glenn Gould, who was only 50 when he died in fall 1982.
Beginning with vivid descriptions of his memorable quirks and indelible personality and ending with his obsession of recording without an audience (“And people are a problem … Germs! … Noise! … Glenn does not like applause… What can Glenn do? Finally he finds the answer. In an empty concert hall Glenn makes music for an audience that isn’t there,” pens Ellis). Readers learn that Glenn was a sensitive child who very keenly knew his own mind. He liked to play duets with his English Setter named Sir Nickolson of Garelocheed.
He liked puns and pranks, but not bullying. He liked the company of animals but found people, especially groups such as parties, more difficult. He liked learning and reading but didn’t like school (“School is boring, and the other kids say he’s weird,” writes Ellis). And Glenn also liked the rules of games and puzzles, the way that math works and the patterns in music, but didn’t like rules he felt squashed him and his zeal for music, such as the fact that his parents allowed him to practice piano for only four hours a day.
Witty in tone and style and brimming with myriad fascinating facts about Glenn as both a child and an adult (he had a professional performing career by age 15 and was performing all around the globe in his 20s), this inspirational 40-page ode to one of the planet’s most beloved — and decidedly odd — pianists, composers, visionary thinkers and multimedia artists is sure to delight readers of all ages, especially music fans and those with deeply expressive, inquisitive minds (just like Glenn).
Vo’s distinct, visually rich illustrations are an outstanding complement to Ellis’s age-appropriate verse and detailed story, further enticing the reader to savour this one-of-a-kind portrait of a musical genius. Done in pen, watercolour and acetone transfer on fine art paper in varying shades of deep blue, grey, green and black, and punctuated with yellows, oranges and golds, Vo’s illustrations have skillfully rendered not only the idiosyncrasies, but also the energy and depth of this legendary talent and his enduring legacy. Through a captivating mix of single- and double-page spreads, all featuring striking vignettes and gorgeous life-like images, Ellis and Vo have created a compelling, uplifting and ultimately illuminating mini-biography that will inspire young and old everywhere to accept and embrace not only other’s eccentricities and differences, but, most importantly, their own. Through As Glenn as Can Be, Vo and Ellis have succinctly and expertly brought the life and times of this extraordinarily gifted, spirited Canadian musician to the fore, sharing that, ever the trailblazer, Glenn helped us to know that it’s more than okay to just truly be yourself.
Complete with a thoughtfully researched one-page author’s note on Glenn’s innumerable talents and singular character and a one-page list of further reading resources for both adults and children, including where to find his Grade 5 report card and a photo of his dog online, As Glenn as Can Be is a must-have for any book collection and is sure to become a classic favourite, sparking meaningful conversation and serving as an invaluable touchpoint for multi-generational enjoyment and learning.
Jennifer D. Foster is a Toronto, Ontario-based freelance editor, proofreader, writer and mentor, and her company is Planet Word. Like millions worldwide, she enjoys listening to Glenn Gould’s recordings, especially his famous interpretation of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Goldberg Variations.”