Recently I was given the opportunity to review Leo’s Gift, by Susan Blackaby and Joellyn Cicciarelli, through the Kid Lit Exchange. The book moved me in a number of ways. I am a sucker for books about music, but also, since I freelance for OutreachNC, a magazine that often covers topics about caring for those with dementia and other memory issues, a book that illustrates how “music carves a memory” is something I feel strongly about.
There are so many pieces to this wonderful book! First off, the illustrations, by Carrie Schuler, are top notch. She captures so many emotions and concepts beautifully and it all feels so fresh. The story itself touches on a variety of topics from finding your passion to sharing your personal gifts with others. Young Leo doesn’t know what his gift is, but all children are encouraged to figure out their own special talents through this moving story.
The story itself starts with Meredith practicing piano and complaining about it. But her music touches her young brother, Leo, and Meredith manages to teach Leo some basics only to discover that Leo has a natural gift for the piano. Meredith’s true passion is basketball, and while she stays late to practice with the team, Leo finds the music room and his own time to practice.
In the music room, Leo meets Mr. Alonzo who explains that we all have gifts that we can share with others. Meredith’s is basketball, and he encourages Leo to figure out what his is. This particular spread is fabulous because Leo isn’t thinking of the piano, he is considering all of the possibilities of what his gift might be, visualized through illustrations.
Towards the end of the book, Meredith’s piano recital has come. The recital is at a senior home where her teacher’s mother lives. Leo sits next to Miss Ella, who has dementia, and who “misses the recital” because she is humming a tune throughout. Leo realizes what tune she is humming and comes back to the other central theme of the book – “Music carves a deep memory.” Miss Ella tells him to play her song and he does – Hark, the Herald Angels Sing. Leo has found his gift and how to share it with others.