Yay Storytime!

Musical Adventures with Children’s Picture Books, Part Fourteen

By Thomas Amoriello Jr., NAfME Council for Guitar Education Immediate Past Chair

This edition of “Yay Storytime! Musical Adventures with Children’s Picture Books” will focus on a recent release written by author Michael Mahin and illustrated by Steven Salerno. Educators can use music-themed children’s picture books to ignite a spark of interest in children to further explore music. In Gizmos, Gadgets, and GUITARS: The Story of Leo Fender, the focus is on the creator of monumental electric guitars that shaped the history of multiple music genres. Science, technology, engineering, arts, and math would have aided a young Leo Fender to push forward through his early failures to assist in shaping the sound of popular music. Not bad for a non-musician!

Gizmos Gadgets and Guitars children's picture books

Please feel free to leave comments on social media for open dialog or share picture books that have been a success in your classroom. On behalf of the NAfME, I would like to thank Mr. Mahin for sharing their thoughts with the membership.

illustration inside children's book about Leo Fender


Your story Gizmos, Gadgets, and GUITARS: The Story of Leo Fender is so much more than a story about the guitar. How can your children’s picture book benefit the non-guitar educator as well as students?

I think the special thing about this story is that while it’s a story about music, it’s also a story about an inventor and the scientific process. And that process, which consists of generating an idea, experimenting, and lots and lots of failure, is one that all students benefit from understanding, and one that applies to every discipline. It’s how we write music, it’s how we solve math problems, it’s how we learn to walk. It’s also an illustration of a growth mindset at work.


In life our students deal with adversity on many occasions. A young Leo Fender lost an eye in a farming accident, but his perseverance and determination helped him in his work with electronics.

I think that’s a lesson we can all benefit from. There’s no sugar-coating a tragedy or accident like the one Leo endured, but in the end, he didn’t let that stop him from pursuing his passion. I think there’s an important metaphor here, and it doesn’t just apply to people with physical challenges; it’s a message for anyone who doesn’t feel worthy or good enough. It’s such a cliché but really, anything is possible if you put your mind to it (and your back into it).

child reading book

Also, a career setback in his early adulthood as an accountant led him to his love of working professionally with electronic gear, eventually leading him to the creation of an instrument that changed the sound of music. This is a magnificent story!

Yes! This is the magic (and irony) of life. You’ve asked about overcoming tragedy previously, and this is another version of that. How often in life does a challenge like this turn into an opportunity? All the time! Sometimes it’s like we need to lose what we think we want so we can find what we need. That’s a very archetypal moment, one that Joseph Campbell talks about in his very famous book Hero with a Thousand Faces. The hero of myth often leaves on a quest in search of one thing (like adventure or a magic ring) only to discover something he or she needs more (his or her true self). These are powerful ideas and ones that have real meaning for our lives. So, just because things aren’t going your way and the world seems like it’s against you, you just got to persevere. And listen. Maybe that’s what these events force us to do. They force you to listen to your heart a bit. And more often than not, your heart has the answer.


Leo did not play an instrument and relied on the advice of his friends. Many non-musicians have contributed immensely to our field as Mr. Fender did, working harmoniously with others is a fine example of teamwork.

It sure is. I think what set Leo apart was his ability and willingness to listen to feedback—feedback from his trusted friends and also feedback from bad mics and amps! This can be very hard for creatives. It’s very easy to take criticism of your work as criticism of yourself as a human being. But that’s all ego, and in the end ego is your enemy if you want to grow as an artist, inventor, and human being. If you can put your ego aside, you open the door to the process of learning. In many ways, that’s what this book is about.

Michael Mahin playing harmonica


The solid body electric guitars (Stratocaster and what is now known as the telecaster) that Leo designed continue to influence the next generation of professional and more importantly amateur music makers. Please share your feelings of guitar playing with our NAfME membership.

I’ve been around music all of my life and consider that a great gift, both as a lover of music and as a player of music. It is so good for people on so many levels that from a clinical standpoint, I want to say, it’s good for you. But that’s the parent in me talking. I struggle with that, wanting my kids to play music and wanting to make sure they enjoy it at the same time. I grew up being forced to play piano, and it made me hate it. It wasn’t until many years later that I picked up a guitar and was inspired to actually play an instrument again. I’ve kinda come to the conclusion that finding the “fun” of music is the most important thing for new learners.

One thing I like to tell kids is that, you don’t have to be good to play music. Kids, and adults, often look at someone with expertise and think to themselves, “I’ll never be that good, so why even bother.” We often assume that expertise is easy and that “they’re just talented.” But that’s rarely true. As we all know, most overnight successes are 10,000 hours in the making.

So why bother learning an instrument? Because it’s fun and because you want to. No one says you have to be good. You just have to have fun. And what’s the irony of that? Chances are if you have fun doing something, you’re going to get good at it. That’s a bit more of life’s magic, isn’t it?

Yay Storytime! Children’s Picture Book Articles

About the author:

guitar educator Tom Amoriello with electric guitar

Photo Credit: Jon Carlucci

Thomas Amoriello Jr. is the Immediate Past Chair of the NAfME Council for Guitar Education and is also the former Chairperson for the New Jersey Music Educators Association. Tom has taught guitar classes for the Flemington Raritan School District in Flemington, New Jersey, since 2005 and also teaches at Hunterdon Academy of the Arts. He has earned a Master of Music Degree in Classical Guitar Performance from Shenandoah Conservatory and a Bachelor of Arts in Music from Rowan University. Currently, he is pursuing a Doctor of Music Education degree from Liberty University. He is the author of the children’s picture books A Journey to Guitarland with Maestro Armadillo and Ukulele Sam Strums in the Sand. Visit thomasamoriello.com for more information.

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The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides are number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.

November 2, 2021. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)

April 2024 Teaching Music

Published Date

November 2, 2021


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November 2, 2021. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)

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