The best picture books for introducing young readers to band and orchestra instruments

Who am I?

I’m a children’s book author with a Master of Education in Language and Literacy who loves the musicality of words. Growing up in a musical family, I started piano lessons in second grade, clarinet lessons in fourth, and dabbled a bit in saxophone in high school. Clarinet was the instrument that really stuck for me – I played in bands, pit bands, and orchestras all through school and beyond. My picture book Clarinet and Trumpet blasted forth from my own band experiences. 


I wrote...

Clarinet and Trumpet

By Melanie Ellsworth, John Herzog (illustrator),

Book cover of Clarinet and Trumpet

What is my book about?

Clarinet and Trumpet are best friends, but their friendship falls flat when a new instrument (a double reed!) comes between them. The tension crescendos as the brass and woodwinds face off in an ear-splitting musical duel. With humor and musical puns, this book highlights the important role music plays in creating empathy and community. A rain stick built into the book’s spine allows young readers to shake the book and join the band! 

The books I picked & why

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This Magical, Musical Night

By Rhonda Gowler Greene, James Rey Sanchez (illustrator),

Book cover of This Magical, Musical Night

Why this book?

This book not only introduces readers to the sections and instruments in an orchestra, it does so in lyrical, rhythmic, rhyming verse. Readers will love saying – and hearing – sounds like “pling…plung,” “lootle-oots,” and “bumble, boom…crash!” As a bonus, readers learn musical terms like “arpeggio,” “glissando,” and “diminuendo.” The illustrations are colorful and dynamic and remind me of a movie I loved as a child – Fantasia!


The Oboe Goes Boom Boom Boom

By Colleen Af Venable, Lian Cho (illustrator),

Book cover of The Oboe Goes Boom Boom Boom

Why this book?

This book makes a wonderful read-aloud for a music class or a library storytime. The main character, Mr. V the band director, introduces each instrument in the band. The best feature of this book? It’s funny! Kids will crack up as the young drummer keeps interrupting right before each instrument in the band is about to play. As a former clarinetist, my favorite line is, “Listening to a clarinet is like eating rich chocolate cake, bold and sweet at the same time.” Warning to parents: any reader who hasn’t yet chosen their just-right instrument will ask to after reading this book! (If your little readers love Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein or Z is for Moose by Kelly Bingham and Paul O. Zelinsky, I bet they’ll love this one, too.)


Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin

By Lloyd Moss, Marjorie Priceman (illustrator),

Book cover of Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin

Why this book?

This book starts with one trombone, all alone, and adds another instrument on each page until there’s a chamber group of ten. The text swirls and twirls in happy harmony with the illustrations. It’s quite a feat to describe instruments and their sounds in rhyming verse, but this flows along seamlessly. Listen to this oboe description: “Gleeful, bleating, sobbing, pleading, through its throbbing double-reeding.” In addition to introducing orchestra instruments, this book teaches counting (1-10) and terms like “duo,” “trio,” and “quartet,” so it works well for a wide age range of picture book readers. My favorite illustration is the silliest one, where the musicians have become so enthused by the music that the violinist is playing the violin on his head, and the clarinet has attached itself to the clarinetist’s nose.


Play This Book

By Jessica Young, Daniel Wiseman (illustrator),

Book cover of Play This Book

Why this book?

Play This Book is a rhyming, rhythmic read-aloud with plenty of fun-to-say onomatopoeia. With full-spread illustrations of instruments and text that encourages readers to “play” the instruments, toddlers will be tapping on the book and hopping around to their own beat! I love the bright colors and energy of the illustrations. Toddlers who enjoy this book can explore more instruments in the board book, Hello, World! Music by Jill McDonald.


Welcome to the Symphony: A Musical Exploration of the Orchestra Using Beethoven's Symphony No. 5

By Carolyn Sloan, James Williamson (illustrator),

Book cover of Welcome to the Symphony: A Musical Exploration of the Orchestra Using Beethoven's Symphony No. 5

Why this book?

I included this picture book because it was one of my daughter’s favorites. Through Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, the book introduces orchestral concepts such as “concertmaster,” “pitch,” and “dynamics” and teaches readers about the various sections that make up an orchestra. Newer books like How to Build an Orchestra by Mary Auld and illustrated by Elisa Paganelli, also do a wonderful and comprehensive job introducing all things orchestra-related, but what my daughter loved about Welcome to the Symphony was the button panel on the side of the book. With a push of a button, she could listen to the sound of different instruments playing snippets from Beethoven’s Fifth. Pair Welcome to the Symphony with classical music pieces like Benjamin Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra or Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf for additional fun identifying musical instruments!


3 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in musical instruments, counting, and orchestras?

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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