Playing at the Border: A Story of Yo-Yo Ma




Historical Figures


Collective Action

Joanna Ho & Teresa Martinez


I’m confident that you’ve seen this gorgeous book floating around on the internet, and I’m here to try and add my two cents to campaign for why you need this book. Playing at the Border weaves together a specific event when Yo-Yo Ma played his cello on the border of Mexico and the U.S.

It should be noted that this area used to be Mexico, and you might have heard the phrase “we didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us” which references the fact that Texas used be to an independent nation until the U.S turned it into a state. If you want to know more, I found this article helpful and easy to read! TLDR: white supremacy is at it again.

Anyway, his story is melodic and tells about Yo-Yo’s early life and how music brings everyone together. Musical instruments are created from parts around the globe, people travel to see performances, and we can build bridges instead of walls. Ma’s life itself is a symphony of different cultures. He could be described as a third culture kid, and took up the cello as a small child.

The story is inspiring without being heavy-handed or preachy. It celebrates how the world creates opportunities to work together. We can play music written hundreds of years ago in another country in order to unite listeners across (albeit fake) borders.

This book was kindly sent by Harper Kids, but all opinions are my own!

Joanna Ho

I live in the Bay Area, California with my two rascally children. When I’m not at home stepping on LEGOs and chasing around a four year-old who refuses to put on her clothes, I’m at my school doing big, important vice principal things like chasing around teenagers who refuse to go to class.

In the summer, you can find me in a muumuu and flip-flops planning trips to the beach and eating buckets of Marianne’s 1020 ice cream. In the winter, I live in baggy sweats and fuzzy socks, and I turn into a holiday tradition overlord who is determined to pack every possible holiday activity into not enough time. This is how I became a writer of children’s books; I was hunting for holiday books with diverse characters for my newborn, and realized there weren’t very many. I started writing because I believe all kids need to see themselves and others in books. 

If I’m not writing, vice-principalling, or mommying, I am most likely searching for the perfect chocolate chip cookie, reading books by diverse creators, or tromping through nature on epic outdoor adventures. 

Teresa Martinez

Teresa Martinez grew up in a small town north of Mexico, playing in the river, walking with the cows, and feeding the neighbor’s pigs. Before becoming a children’s book illustrator, she studied graphic design and spent many afternoons reading art books in the university library. She lives in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

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