From School Library Journal
Grade 3-5–A poignant story of humanity, creativity, and survival. Olivier Messiaen, a well-known French composer, was captured by the Germans during World War II and taken to a prison camp. In her softly flowing watercolor paintings, Peck portrays him as a pale, bespectacled man clutching a pack of sheet music. For an unexplained reason, a German officer allowed the musician to use a small room to continue to write. Although he wondered if anyone would ever hear his work, he pressed on, finally finding inspiration in the song of a nightingale. The illustration shows the notes rising from his pen in a triumphant arch intertwined with songbirds. With the arrival of two new prisoners carrying instrument cases, Messiaen gained hope. Finally, the composition was performed by a quartet in front of 5000 prisoners. Again, this moment is reinforced with a scene that shows the darkness of the winter day and camp enlightened by the music as the notes–presented in bands of yellow and entwined with nightingales–flow above the audience. Use this book with other stories of triumph over suffering, such as Ken Mochizuki's Baseball Saved Us
(Lee & Low, 1993) or Louise Borden's The Greatest Skating Race
(S & S, 2004). Better yet, play Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time
as you read it.–Jane Marino, Bronxville Public Library, NY
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Gr. 4-7. Based on a true World War II incident that took place in 1941, this handsome picture book tells a story of kindness from the enemy and of the power of music. In the German camp Stalag 8A, a young officer allowed a captured French soldier, Olivier Messiaen, to compose music in a small room in the toilets, and then to play what he wrote (the now-famous composition "Quartet for the End of Time") with three other prisoners in a concert attended by 5,000 prisoners in the camp. The Germans found a run-down piano for Messiaen; they found a cello for another prisoner musician; two others were allowed to keep the instruments they brought with them. Bryant tells the fictionalized biography in clear poetic prose, and Peck's beautiful charcoal-and-pastel double-page spreads never downplay the harshness of the crowded barracks and the desolate lines of sad, sometimes wounded prisoners, even as they show the composer close up and the nightingales whose calls inspire the wild and beautiful music. Hazel RochmanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved