Kid Lit Review of “Playing at the Border: A Story of Yo-Yo Ma” by Joanna Ho 

Yo-Yo Ma, the famous cellist born in 1955, was born in Paris to Chinese parents and raised in the United States. He was recognized as a child prodigy, and began performing at age four and a half. He graduated from the Juilliard School and Harvard University, and has performed as a soloist with orchestras around the world. He has recorded more than 90 albums and received 18 Grammy Awards.

He is notable for his diverse repertoire, in which he brings together melodies from different genres from around the world. The author notes that Ma is drawn to the intersections of cultures, “where traditions are kept alive and new ideas are born.”

Ma believes, Ho writes, that good music is a great vehicle to connect cultures and humanity from all walks of life. This conviction is exemplified in this story of how, in 2019, Yo-Yo Ma played a solo on the banks of the Rio Grande, “accompanied by an orchestra of wind and water.”

As the author explains at the end of the book, this performance was part of Yo-Yo Ma’s two-year campaign to increase global connections through music:

“As part of the Bach Project, he performed Johann Sebastian Bach’s six suites for solo cello in 36 places around the world. Along with his concerts, Yo-Yo Ma collaborated with local community leaders at each site to plan a day of action to build a more connected future.”

She observed that in particular, “playing at the border was a powerful symbolic response to the anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies pushed by the president of the United States [Trump] and his supporters during this time.”

A more detailed explanation of Ma’s performance at the border and its significance is given in the back matter, which also includes additional information about Ma, his cello, and the Bach Project; a brief bibliography; and an author’s note.

The lyrical text celebrating the universal elements of Yo-Yo Ma’s music and even his cello (“made from parts that came from lands of many languages”) is enhanced by lovely watercolors with swirling notes done by Teresa Martinez.

Evaluation: Readers age 4 and over will no doubt find the story and pictures enchanting. As an accompaniment while reading, Youtube has many video recordings of Yo-Yo Ma.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins, 2021

Yo-Yo Ma brought his Bach Project to the sister cities of Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. The project uses the music of Johann Sebastian Bach to explore connections between cultures.
Lauren A. Terrazas/Texas Public Radio

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