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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that although older children and adults will notice that several characters wear yellow arm bands with a Star of David, and that Brundibar bears a strong resemblance to Hitler, the historical context is not necessary to appreciate the story. All children are familiar with bullies, and the children's triumph in the story is cheering and satisfying.
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What's the story?
The mother of a small eastern European boy named Pepicek and his younger sister Aninku is sick. The doctor tells the children that their mother needs milk, but they have no money to buy it. In order to earn money the children sing in the town square, but the greedy hurdy-gurdy man, Brundibar, resents the competition and seeks revenge. With the help of three talking animals, 300 school children, and eventually 1000 adults, the terrible Brundibar is run out of town and the children get home safely with milk for their mother.
Taken from a children's opera published in 1938 in Czechoslovakia, with libretto by Adolph Hoffmeister and music by Hans Krasa, the story is rich with historical reference and emotional resonance. In 1942, Krasa (1899-1944) was arrested and sent to Terezin, the walled city north of Prague used by the Nazis as a prison. There, along with other illustrious Jewish musicians, artists, and intellectuals, he tried to make the wretchedness of their circumstances a bit more bearable through his art. With Krasa directing, the children of Terezin performed the opera "Brundibar" fifty-five times. The opera was tremendously successful because of its message of hope and resistance. Sadly, both Krasa and the children of Terezin were eventually deported to Auschwitz where they all perished.
Is it any good?
This is a dazzling collaboration between two stars in their own fields. On one level renowned writer Tony Kushner's lyrical tale is a simple one. The language is alive with imagery and rhythm, and reads aloud beautifully. But there are many layers of significance beyond the surface: The opera Brundibar was composed in the terrible time in Europe just before the start of World War II. It is based on Aristophanes' Lysistrata and is similarly a cry for people to join ranks against an intolerable situation.
Maurice Sendak uses a new combination of media for his signature illustrations: colored pencil, crayon, and brush pen. The pictures are vibrantly colored and filled with additional plot details and text. Expressive and dramatic, they are meant to be pored over. Once appreciated, BRUNDIBAR is a story that will stay with the reader for years to come.