Ada’s Violon: the story of the recycled Orchestra of Paraguayby Susan Hood and illustrated by Sally Wern Comport is a book I’ve been waiting for ever since I first heard and watched a video about this orchestra.
The Landfill Orchestra
What an amazing concept!
It works on so many levels. An extremely poor community in Paraguay is built around the recycling of garbage taken from a local landfill. As both the video and book explain, to own a valuable instrument is impossible because of the risk of theft. Because instruments are expensive to buy, it’s difficult for everyone to have an instrument of their own to play. The solution is to construct instruments from recycled materials, again derived from the landfill, instead.
The book provides more backstory than the video. It focuses on Ada Rios (shown in the video) and her family of recyclers giving us a sense of what the community is like: very poor with few opportunities of a better life and the threat of gang life as a way out. Though she does go to school, there aren’t many opportunities to go beyond the boundaries of her community, until the day her grandmother sees a sign advertising music lessons and encourages Ada to go. Immediately, Ada selects the violin as her instrument of choice.
The story continues with how the instruments were constructed and it’s fascinating to see them in the video. Paint cans, oil drums, forks, pipes and packing crates are all used to fashion these beautiful music makers.
With lots of practice, these novice musicians become good enough to perform in front of local audiences. Word spreads and they hold concerts for international audiences in other countries.
What a success story.
In terms of classroom connections, this kind of story has so many possibilities. There’s the grade 4 science unit on waste and our world which often ties into recycling. There’s the grade 3 social studies unit about quality of life that would work well with this story. This would make an interesting book to bring into a fine arts classroom. I can see connections to the STEM/STEAM and maker movements, too. Or even a story from which to draw inspiration for activism at local levels.
This would definitely work across the elementary grades. Highly recommended.