Tag Archives: french picture book
The Red Piano by Andrê Leblanc and Barroux (2010).
There aren’t a ton of picture books about The Cultural Revolution in China, but as China’s history fascinates me, I was very happy to find The Red Piano.
It’s an incredible book about a young girl, a re-education camp, and the piano that connects her to memories of her old life, to freedom.
“For several years now, pages from Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier have been passed round the camp, from hand to hand. The father of a friend sends parcels. Several sheets are hidden in each package. If there is an inspection, they are confiscated and she has to hope for another package.”
There is a piano, miraculously, hidden in the camp. Music is what helps the girl survive. Remember. Feel human, feel hope.
One day, she’s discovered, and punished. “The music in her heart subsides.” Until, another day, it is all over.
The illustrations are bleakly beautiful. Stark. Cream paper, ink gray, bleeding bursts of red.
The story is inspired by concert pianist Zhu Xiao-Mei‘s true story.
You may also want to check out the middle grade memoir, Red Scarf Girl, which covers the same historical period.
This comes from the pair that created The Scar, a beautiful, brilliant book (which I’ve featured here). But that one’s a sad book. This one is also beautiful but without the sadness. Instead, you might say it has a dose of melancholy. But it’s also funny. Quirky. Charming. Real.
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It’s for the older set because the main character is eight and the text is lengthier than most. But also because a kid, a growing up kid, will really relate to this diary of a failed (then won!) summer vacation.
(See how those brilliant summer blues and yellows gleam from the pages?)
The whole book is written matter of factly. The way Myron might really narrate things.
Myron’s a bit behind. He hasn’t lost a baby tooth yet and he’s ripe for teasing. His vacation will be without his parents and brother, at his grandparents’ house with cousins.
“Grandma asked me if I was happy and I muttered, ‘Yes…Yeah, sure…’ What else could I say? I didn’t want to tell her that I was about to have the worst vacation of my whole life.”
And then there’s the bathing costume of the title. (That’s what Myron’s grandmother calls it.)
“This summer I’m eight. And in the family, the summer when you’re eight is the summer when you have to jump off the 10-foot diving board.”
The poor kid only has his older brother’s yellow bathing suit, so the thing hangs off him like crazy at the city pool. He has to hold it up and there’s a moment when his bare bottom’s in the air. And that high dive? So not happening. What child (or grown up) can’t relate to this story?
Not to worry though. There’s change ahead. (Sadly, not in the form of a new bathing suit.) The power goes out one night and relationships shift. The family heads back to the swimming pool. One of Myron’s teeth gets very, very loose! And he walks up the ladder to the high dive. I’ll let you guess what happens next.
The last diary-like entry is the opposite of the first one. The way some camp or vacation diary-entries really are about-faces. The lucky ones. When worst vacations turn into the best.