Based on a Czech opera that was performed 55 times by children in Terezin, a Nazi concentration camp, Brundibar is an odd, urgent little tale of a brother and sister who are desperately trying to get their hands on some milk for their sick mother. They race to the village center, only to discover that they need money to buy milk. Unfortunately, all the money in town seems to be going to the nefarious hurdy-gurdy man, Brundibar. Enter three talking animals and 300 willing children (bearing balloons stating "WE DONT MIND SKIPPING SCHOOL"), and things start looking up for little Aninku and Pepicek. Retold by playwright Tony Kushner and illustrated by Caldecott Medal recipient Maurice Sendak, this operatic story is just nutty enough to become a favorite for open-minded young readers. Sendak fans will smile to see the village baker, who bears a striking resemblance to the baker in Sendak's In the Night Kitchen. His chaotic, jam-packed illustrations reveal witty little subplots to the libretto text (written all in upper case), which sharp-eyed readers will enjoy discovering. (Ages 5 to 8) --Emilie Coulter
From School Library Journal
K Up-A picture book based on a 1938 Czech opera, originally performed by the children of Terezin. A brother and sister try to get milk for their sick mother. They sing for coins in the town square, but Brundibar the organ grinder drowns out their words with his "teeth-chattery bone-rattley horrible song." Pepicek and Aninku then join voices with 300 other children and earn enough coins to fill their "soon-to-be-milkbucket." The playful language, with occasional rhyme and alliteration, is a perfect match for Sendak's spirited young heroes. The illustrations reflect varied undertones of a powerful story that works on different levels, including many references to the Holocaust. Scenes in the town show rich adults ignoring the desperate siblings, while other children also suffer from hunger. A banner matches a sign that covered the gates of Auschwitz, and several townsfolk wear yellow Stars of David. Brundibar vaguely resembles Hitler, particularly in one scene where he appears, huge and purple faced, with a clenched fist. A wordless spread showing grieving parents is poignant in itself, but tragic within the Holocaust context. Most kids won't get the literal references, but will respond directly to the images of the ominous, yet hopeful world depicted. In the end everyone sings triumphantly that "the wicked never win" and "our friends make us strong," but a final scribbled message from Brundibar promises that he'll be back. This is an ambitious picture book that succeeds both as a simple children's story and as a compelling statement against tyranny.
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Steven Engelfried, Beaverton City Library, OR
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