Learning from Picture Books

Orca’s Song


I read Orca’s Song by Anne Cameron. Finding literature – especially picture books – to read in a music classroom is difficult. They can be hard to tie into the lesson material, especially in a strings focused class (like I am used to teaching). Yet there are really valuable stories to read in class as a music educator, because one of the biggest challenges with a music class is working together in a creative space. Students can often be more vulnerable or uncertain when they have the freedom to move around and express themselves with something abstract like music.

I like Orca’s Song as a book to help in the musical classroom – one, because I felt it could tie into a musical lesson, and two because it had some important themes that could build the sense of teamwork, community, and working together I strive for in my classroom.

Orca’s Song is about an Orca who becomes fascinated with an Osprey. The osprey in turn, becomes fascinated with the orca. The two try harder and harder to be close to each other. Eventually, the orca brings the osprey a fish and its true love. The osprey teaches the orca to sing, and the orca teaches the osprey to fish. They fall in love and have a baby. Their orca can jump higher than any other fish in the sea, almost as if it could fly.

Rubric and Multicultural Value

Cameron was born in British Columbia, but from what I can tell is not a Native writer. I feel her work portrays native values well, and it appears from her background and other works she aspires to be sensitive and accurate to the culture’s values and stories. I would give it a lot of 3s – it seems pretty solid to me!

Using it in the Classroom

This story works well for a class that needs help building its team – the orca and the osprey clearly come from totally different ways of life, but by meeting in the middle the come to truly care about each other, and both end up the better. By overcoming their differences, they learn from each other and live more exciting lives.

In addition to the valuable moral lesson, the text is also extremely rich with musical writing. This book could be mapped out by a class into a visual score, or sentences of what happened in the story – and then performed by the students as a sonic story. They could make the sounds of the orca, the osprey, and figure out how those sounds change after the two animals teach each other.

For elementary level students, it could easily be a movement and improvisation game where they assign sounds to each part of the story. High schoolers and middle schoolers could get deeper into the idea of picking the right sounds and developing a musical structure to help tell the story.

Cameron, Anne. Orca’s Song. Madeira Park, B.C. Harbour Publishing. 1987

6 thoughts on “Learning from Picture Books”

  1. Andy, I enjoyed reading your post about the importance of learning from picture books. It is always fascinating to see elementary students get so excited when the teacher reads a picture book to them. The middle and high schoolers, I agree with you, can go deeper into the meaning of the story, and characters.

  2. Be sure to look into Lorrie’s collection of books. She incorporates literature into her classes all the time, making sure students have a chance to make literacy connections and look at the pictures to construct their own story. You have great ideas about how to makes this a musical experience already!

    1. Sure thing. I think its an awesome way to get kids involved and teaches some really valuable skills along the way.

  3. This is awesome, Andrew!

    I love that you went beyond the text and thought about its themes and how they apply to the music classroom. I second Sophia’s comment but also encourage you to go beyond the music books! Books such as these open a big door for improvisational soundscapes. Such a neat idea!

  4. Thank you for not only sharing what this book is about, but what you will do with it too. I liked how you discussed what you would do with it in regards to using it with both secondary students and elementary. I have always been a believer in how important it is to get the kids up and moving and I was glad to see you implement that into your elementary plan.

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