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Children's Nonfiction General

Learn to Speak Music

A Guide to Creating, Performing, and Promoting Your Songs

by (author) John Crossingham

illustrated by Jeff Kulak

Owlkids Books Inc.
Initial publish date
Oct 2009
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2009
    List Price
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2009
    List Price

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Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 9 to 13
  • Grade: 4 to 7


For something so familiar, music remains mysterious to many of us, to the point where our favorite musicians are more like magicians than everyday people. But the truth is, the world of music-making is closer to all of us than ever before. Sometimes all that separates us from realizing the potential of our own musical creativity is a little extra know-how. Learn to Speak Music helps kids learn the simplicity of this universal language by exposing every nook and cranny of how music is made — whether by the pros or by you! And it’s about more than just picking up an instrument. From songwriting and artwork to shooting a video and setting up a practice space, every aspect of the world of popular music is explored. A long-time musician himself, writer John Crossingham uses his experience as a member of Juno award-winning collective Broken Social Scene to open doors normally closed. A vet of several world tours and many albums recorded both at home and in pro studios, he’s also brought along the expert opinions of a cavalcade of other musicians including Feist, Buck 65, Metric’s Emily Haines, and many more. Features include tips on buying your first instrument, getting the most out of your playing, setting up your own gig, hints for better songwriting, secrets of home recording, a guide to making your own video with MTVA-nominated director Christopher Mills, and much more! Whether for a seasoned young musician or merely the curious pop culture vulture, Learn to Speak Music is a chance for kids to see the world of music as never before.

About the authors

JOHN CROSSINGHAM has spent most of his life playing music and writing words. In addition to having edited with OKB, he is author of Learn to Speak Music. A veteran of numerous bands, including Broken Social Scene and Raising The Fawn, he has toured much of the world, played on Conan, Letterman, and the Junos, and has released several albums and EPs. He has also written and edited dozens of children's books, as well as written about music for FASHION and Chart magazines. He lives in Toronto, Ontario.

John Crossingham's profile page

JEFF KULAK is an Edmonton-born, Montreal-based designer-illustrator. From his studio, a converted room in a former nunnery, he creates art for books, magazines, album covers, and event posters.

Jeff Kulak's profile page


  • Short-listed, British Columbia Library Association, Red Cedar Children's Book Award
  • Runner-up, Alcuin Society Book Design Competition, Reference Category
  • Short-listed, Atlantic Library Association, Hackmatack Children's Choice Book Award
  • Commended, Canadian Children's Book Centre, Best Books for Kids and Teens Starred Selection
  • Short-listed, Children's Literature Roundtables of Canada, Information Book Award
  • Commended, Ontario Library Association, Top 10 Canadian Children's Books, Non-fiction Category, Best Bets List
  • Commended, National Parenting Publications Awards, Children's Products Competition, Honor Book

Editorial Reviews

This boatload of information is made palatable by Crossingham’s easy tone that doesn’t talk down to the reader and the book’s clever design…Even non-musicians will be more informed listeners.


a must for anyone eager to do a video performance, form a band, set up a studio, or organize a live show.

Calliope Magazine

…an interesting book for people who really like music…exhilarating!

KNOW Magazine

Crossingham’s intent is to encourage young people to pursue music because ‘in each of us exists a weird little music animal waiting to be discovered.’ With this accessible book, he is sure to fulfill his intent.

Professionally Speaking

…provides a quick but comprehensive look at the music industry and enthusiastic advice about how to get started. Crossingham has done it himself and has been generous in putting his expertise and experience into this ‘how-to’ for future stars.

Resource Links

Kids won’t actually learn how to read or play music from this book, but it might provide impetus to learn.

Publishers Weekly

"Fun facts about extreme conditions that some humans experience...the colorful illustrations and page layout make it student-friendly."

Library Media Connection

"…long live rock, thanks to a whip-smart new book…young readers will receive the appropriate amount of inspiration, [and] any semi-artistic adults reading along may find themselves wondering if their own musical inclinations might have taken a different path with such perfectly pitched encouragement."


…everything a young one needs to go out and create his or her own Little Social Scene.

Paste Magazine

Whether you’re interested in starting your own band or just jamming in your room, this book is for you.

B-Zone Magazine

Crossingham provides the tinder for rock ‘n’ roll dreams to ignite, and budding garage bands will pick up some sound (pun fully intended) advice.

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

John Crossingham’s thorough guide will inspire and challenge a child…His conversational, easy-going style will advance children’s knowledge as well as introduce them to elevated technical terms and language…Learn to Speak Music will be a much-read addition to any library collection. Expect a long list of reserves.

CM Magazine: Canadian Review of Materials

‘All of this stuff is art, and just like music itself, it feels great to create.’ This statement is the backbone of this incredibly readable book…Inspiration is addressed and not solely in words, but also through the exceptional graphic design and illustrations, which enhance and broaden the musical themes addressed with humor, wit, and style. This book will wow anyone who is ready to recognize that creative spark within themselves.

School Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

[Crossingham] speaks in a kid-friendly manner and presents the information in a clear, easy-to-understand way without dumbing anything down…Kulak’s quirky illustrations perfectly embody the text…There is so much detail on each page that readers will find something new every time they pick up this book.

Canadian Children’s Book News

Simple and entertaining language paired with tips from Canadian pros like Metric’s Emily Haines, Ron Sexsmith and Feist, and accompanying playlists will prime performers of any age and experience.

Metro Canada

[Crossingham] promotes a strong DIY indie aesthetic that serves as an extremely refreshing counterpoint to the mainstream’s preoccupation with instant, pre-fab, American/Canadian Idol fame. It’s all about the joy of creating, and I can’t think of a better message for little kids these days…It’s an absolute pleasure to read for kids and grown-ups alike.

Adrian Begrand, writer for Pop Matters

The style is playful and Paul Frank-ish cutesy enough for children, but sophisticated and retro-revisionist referential enough to stimulate adults’ appreciation of design. Most importantly, Learn to Speak Music successfully demystifies the musical process in ways approachable by all ages.


…a smart, adorably illustrated instructional children’s book with a DIY spirit.

The Torontoist

Librarian Reviews

Learn to Speak Music

What kid isn’t interested in some form of music? This is the attitude Learn to Speak Music takes, and it succeeds in its aim to teach kids of all ages about every aspect of music, from choosing their first instrument to writing and recording their first song to advertising for their first gig.

John Crossingham brings his musical expertise from touring with such Canadian indie bands as Broken Social Scene and applies it to this book to teach kids exactly what they want to know about how to make music. He speaks in a kid-friendly manner and presents the information in a clear, easy-to-understand way without dumbing anything down.

Helpful “Playlist” sidebars provide interesting information about songs relating to the text, listing a diverse range of artists from Arcade Fire and Bob Dylan to John Coltrane and Beethoven. Crossingham also includes expert tips from interviews with pros like Feist and Buck 65, complete with artist’s renderings of the musicians by Jeff Kulak.

Kulak’s quirky illustrations perfectly embody the text and provide a balance by filling out the pages. There is so much detail on each page that readers will find something new every time they pick up this book.

Learn to Speak Music is so packed with useful info that even older kids will find something they never knew about music.

Source: The Canadian Children's Bookcentre. Winter 2010. Vol.33 No.1.

Learn to Speak Music: A Guide to Creating, Performing, and Promoting Your Songs

He’s got the beat! As a member of the indie band Broken Social Scene, Crossingham knows something about the music world. He covers several aspects of music making, from choosing and learning to play an instrument to promoting your music. Colour artwork with a retro vibe rounds out this fun-filled guide for young wannabe musicians.

Source: The Canadian Children’s Book Centre. Best Books for Kids & Teens. 2010.

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