Symphony for a Broken Orchestra: How Philadelphia Collected Sounds to Save Music

by Amy Ignatow (Author) Gwen Millward (Illustrator)

Reading Level: K − 1st Grade

What happens when musical instruments can't make the sounds we expect them to make? Is music still possible? An uplifting picture book based on a true story.

The schools of Philadelphia were filling up with broken violins, drums, pianos, and more, making it difficult for students to learn to play. This sparked an idea for a symphony, played entirely with the broken instruments, that would raise funds to repair the instruments themselves. Musicians young and old volunteered, and their captivating performance showed that even something broken can sing--and that great music is always possible with a bit of inventiveness and improvisation. Based on real events, this inspiring story introduces young readers to a range of instruments as it celebrates a community coming together to make a joyful, meaningful noise. More information about the nonprofit organization Broken Orchestra can be found in the back matter, including a link to an audio recording of the symphony performance.

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Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review
Millward's scribbly, digital illustrations and high-octane settings and colors have a childlike quality perfectly attuned to the subject. The sounds, rendered in black letters with yellow highlighting, dominate the designs; musical notes and bright squiggles pulsate across the pages.


This picture book tells how the city of Philadelphia turned its scrapped instruments into an exquisite celebration of music. Colorful, childlike artwork sets the right tempo, depicting students with varying skin colors playing musical instruments around the city. . . . A euphonious and unique look at urban renewal.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review

The music-filled city of Philadelphia resounds with "sharp noises and dull noises and funny noises and sad noises," some of them made by the musical instruments of school children. But when instruments are damaged and abandoned, "away they go"--until a local artist decides to play the broken objects "in new and creative ways" ("Just because something is broken doesn't mean that it can't also be beautiful"). The figures in Millward's digitally rendered illustrations reflect contemporary Philadelphia's racial and ethnic diversity, while bold yellow highlights pop from the saturated palette, emphasizing musical instruments and onomatopoeia. Ignatow's reiterative, sound-focused text builds toward the final symphony, which readers can view at a provided video link. Back matter also includes a note from the person behind the symphony. Ages 6-9. (Oct.)

Copyright 2022 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

Amy Ignatow

Amy Ignatow is a cartoonist and the author of the Popularity Papers series, the Odds trilogy, the Jedi Academy: A Christina Starspeeder Story trilogy, and The Cutest Thing Ever. She is a graduate of Moore College of Art and Design and lives in Philadelphia with her family and their loud cat.

Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Walker Books Us
Publication date
October 20, 2022
BISAC categories
JNF031000 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Lifestyles | City & Town Life
JNF039050 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Performing Arts | Theater
Library of Congress categories

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