The Sweetest Sound by Sherri Winston

“Singing with all my soul made me feel free and beautiful and loved” (Winston, 2017, p. 18).

I am really excited to share The Sweetest Sound (January, 20117, Little, Brown and Company) by Sherri Winston with you today! I received an advanced copy at NCTE, and I LOVED reading about Cadence’s love of music over the holiday break. This is one middle grades books that I would like to share with the future teachers with whom I work.

Cadence’s mom had always wanted to be a singer, so one day she leaves to follow her dream. Cadence has dreams of being a writer and a singer but is so shy that nobody knows she has a beautiful voice. When the new music director at her church wants kids in the choir to upload singing clips, Cadence sees this as an opportunity to reveal her voice but not her identity. After a few twists and turns, Cadence is confident enough to reveal herself as the girl in the video.

Here’s what I LOVE about this book:

(1) It’s about learning the power of one’s voice. Winston’s book is about gaining confidence and about overcoming the fear of others knowing your talents. Whereas its focus is on singing, the book can help middle graders realize the value in standing up for themselves – no matter what their hobby or sport.

(2) I LOVE the poetic language. Winston has a gift for lyrical prose. It makes sense that in a book about a young girl who wants to be a writer and a singer that the language in the book is beautiful. My copy of The Sweetest Sound has so many lines underlined!

(3) This book portrays a single dad. One significant part of The Sweetest Sound is that Cadence lives with her dad and his son. I often speak with my students about the family types that are shared in the books they read or introduce to their students. This book helps students understand that kids can have different types of families. Cadence’s family includes her dad and brother – but also her aunt, church members, and a core of good friends.

Here are a few teaching ideas:

(1) Pair this book with the children’s picture book  Shy by Deborah Freedman. Both books reveal what can come from pushing oneself to be noticed. I LOVE using children’s picture books outside of the elementary school classroom, and Shy is a great text to introduce to students before reading The Sweetest Sound.

(2) Pair this book with “My Name” from The House on Mango Street (Cisneros).  I had the pleasure of seeing Cisneros read from her latest book when I was in Chapel Hill a few years ago. Naively, I thought I could arrive just minutes before her reading and find a seat. Wrong. I stood for the whole two-hour reading!  But her poem “My Name” would pair really well with The Sweetest Sound. Students can think about one’s name is tied intricately to his or her identity and use “My Name” as a mentor text to write their own poetry about themselves or about Cadence. I’ve seen many teachers use this activity, and it always seems to work well!

(3) Cadence is wonderful at describing her feels in musical terms. For instance, she says, “Coffee brewed in the octave of middle G” (Winston, 2017, p. 22). One book that I absolutely love is A Mango-Shaped Space (Mass). This book is about a young girl with synesthesia, a condition that causes one to blend senses. Whereas Cadence does not have synesthesia, her descriptions rely heavily on the senses – mostly on sound. Students can use both A Mango-Shaped Space and The Sweetest Sound to find examples in which the senses are used to make meaningful descriptions.

I’d love to hear what you think of The Sweetest Sound in the comments below!

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