Review Blog

Sep 07 2012

Herman and Rosie by Gus Gordon

cover image

Penguin Viking, 2012. ISBN 9780 670 076031.
(Ages: 7+) Highly recommended. Picture book. With the cover reminiscent of an old 78 RPM record, the hard plastic disc peeping out of the dusty brown cover, the stage is set for a story set in the back streets of New York, a place where two people, Herman and Rosie live. They live quite close to each other, have similar interests, love music, but in the midst of this great metropolis, are lonely. During the day Rosie cleans dishes at a restaurant, taking singing lessons int he afternoon  and at night, singing at a small downtown Jazz Club. Herman works in an office where he sells things over the phone, more often talking to the person at the other end of the line, rather than doing his job.
One day Herman loses his job, and after a period of sadness, plays his oboe again. Rosie also loses her singing job and on hearing Herman's music, tracks it down. The two come together with their music, singing and playing the oboe together.
This is a lovely story of coming together, of overcoming loneliness, of finding a soul mate in the midst of a lonely crowd. It is the story of New York, a place where many millions live, and where music is part of the fabric of life. The prose creates images of a bustling, crowded city, one where noise and people rub together, but over all this we hear the oboe and Rosie's voice.
Gordon's illustrations are magical, creating for the younger reader a dense, detailed picture of a living city. The apartment buildings crammed next to each other, the range of signs seen downstairs, inviting people into a bar or cafe, the drab office, the empty nightclub, the maps showing the sights of New York, all create a masterful image of New York, pinning the thread of the city to the pages overlaying it with music. The style of the illustrations will intrigue the reader, when viewing the postcards, or sheets of paper overlaid with an image, or a pay sheet, or lined graph paper, or newspaper, each giving another layer of imagery, that of the scrapiness of the city, with paper tumbling about unwanted, reminding us again of the two lonely souls.
This is a delightful book, whether read on one level, that of the two lonely people coming together, or of a major city and the loneliness inherent in its size or seeing the disposable nature of city life, each gives nourishment to the reader and reasons for further thought, discussion and reading.
Fran Knight

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