The Beatles Couldn't Read Music? (Wait! What?)

Image of The Beatles Couldn't Read Music? (Wait! What?)
Release Date: 
September 19, 2023
Norton Young Readers
Reviewed by: 

Dan Gutman has written another title for his Wait! What? series, called The Beatles Couldn’t Read Music. A brother and sister, Turner and Paige, are the comic strip narrators. They take turns asking each other questions to keep the conversation going. The book is divided into 12 chapters and totals 144 pages. That leaves plenty of room for spot drawings, quotes from famous musicians, celebrities, and The Beatles themselves, plus lots of white space.

The book is for seven to ten year olds but will be read by kids much older, as well. Who doesn’t want to learn about the Beatles, the most famous rock band ever? After three introductory chapters, Gutman dedicates a chapter each to John, Paul, George, and Ringo. The real story has a lot of convoluted history about the original band, The Quarry Men, and how it ended up being the Beatles. Much is condensed, skimmed over or left out, which is probably a good call for this age group.

The chapter called The Songs is a bunch of trivia about how several songs came about, where the ideas came from. Chapter 9 is about the albums, which are different in England from the ones released in the United States. Nothing’s ever clear and direct with the Beatles.

Brian Epstein, their manager, gets four pages in Chapter Two. Gutman skips the messy part about his accidental overdose and the Beatles falling apart without their manager. Stu Sutcliffe’s untimely death is also skipped, but at least he gets mentioned as a fifth Beatle. Gutman claims that the Beatles played 1000 hours in Hamburg, Germany, before they became famous. Other authors have clocked it as 10,000 hours. By the time they recorded their first song as The Beatles (not a back-up band) they had played together so much that they were the best band in Liverpool when they returned home.

The book isn’t chronological, which would’ve made it twice as long. The trivia is fun, about Paul getting shocked by the zippers on the back of his jeans while he sat on a car battery and how Paul, George, and Ringo thought bomb sites were synonymous with playgrounds, also that Paul liked his leg hairs combed.

Ivan Vaughan, the mutual friend who introduced Paul to John, isn’t mentioned by name, and he’s the whole reason the Beatles happened, since the boys went to two different schools and might not have ever met on their own.

Many of the Beatles’ books have conflicting information, and many of them regurgitate what someone else has written. It’s good to read a pile of them, including the one by John’s ex-wife, Cynthia, with her different perspective. The Lyrics by Paul Mc Cartney is not necessarily accurate, since it was written more than 60 years after the events occurred and conflicts with many of the earlier books about the Beatles (for instance, the origin of “Blackbird”). All that aside, the book is fun, the trivia is interesting, and the quotes from famous musicians who came after the Beatles (Joel, Petty, Cobain), and at the same time (Dylan, Wilson, Sinatra) are the best part of the book. We know that The Beatles influenced all rock music that came after it. The quotes help show us how.

As kids get turned on to the Beatles’ music, they will appreciate The Beatles Couldn’t Read Music and the trivia within.