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Noticing how desperately he wants to play an instrument during the outdoor concerts, a concerned friend teaches Manuelo the Mantis how to make a cello so that he can fulfill his musical destiny and play his part in the concerts he loves.
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Don Freeman was born in San Diego, California, in 1908. At an early age, he received a trumpet as a gift from his father. He practiced obsessively and eventually joined a California dance band. After graduating from high school, he ventured to New York City to study art under the tutelage of Joan Sloan and Harry Wickey at the Art Students' League. He managed to support himself throughout his schooling by playing his trumpet evenings, in nightclubs and at weddings.
Gradually, he eased into making a living sketching impressions of Broadway shows for The New York Times and The Herald Tribune. This shift was helped along, in no small part, by a rather heartbreaking incident: he lost his trumpet. One evening, he was so engrossed in sketching people on the subway, he simply forgot it was sitting on the seat beside him. This new career turned out to be a near-perfect fit for Don, though, as he had always loved the theater.
He was introduced to the world of children’s literature when William Saroyan asked him to illustrate several books. Soon after, he began to write and illustrate his own books, a career he settled into comfortably and happily. Through his writing, he was able to create his own theater: "I love the flow of turning the pages, the suspense of what's next. Ideas just come at me and after me. It's all so natural. I work all the time, long into the night, and it's such a pleasure. I don't know when the time ends. I've never been happier in my life!"
Don died in 1978, after a long and successful career. He created many beloved characters in his lifetime, perhaps the most beloved among them a stuffed, overall-wearing bear named Corduroy.
Don Freeman was the author and illustrator of many popular books for children, including Corduroy, A Pocket for Corduroy, and the Caldecott Honor Book Fly High, Fly Low.
Kindergarten-Grade 4-Though Freeman died in 1978, his love for storytelling and, in particular, his love for music live on through this previously unpublished tale of determination personified in the character of a praying mantis. The lonely insect longs to join other creatures in making music, but lacks the chirp of the crickets or the croak of the frogs. He also fails at building his own instruments, as a reed made into a flute makes no noise, the flower of a trumpet vine does not blow, and his "snippy" claws break the strings of a twig-and-cobweb harp. Finally, an intelligent and observant spider agrees to help him, if he promises not to eat her for dinner. An artistic collaboration is born as Debby Webster spins web and other objects into an instrument that will bring music into Manuelo's life. The rich pastel illustrations present the world of the resolute Manuelo as the "playing mantis" introduces various instruments to readers. With his stick-thin limbs, the insect makes a graceful figure as he plays his homemade cello. The tiny white spider perfectly reflects the delicate nature of the web she spins. With characters that are empathetic and intrepid, this story makes a good model for encouraging youngsters to persevere when they encounter difficulties. A fine choice for all libraries, this book will be of special interest to young musicians.-Mary Elam, Forman Elementary School, Plano, TX
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