Review Blog

Jan 12 2010

The Red Piano by Andre Leblanc

cover image

Ill. by Baroux. WilkinsFarago, Victoria 2008. ISBN 9780980607017.
(Ages 6-19) Picture book. The stunning front cover draws the reader into the text immediately, as a small Chinese girl walks across a cold barren landscape, carrying buckets on a pole, but with scraps of music flowing overhead. Straight away the signals are there for repression and struggle. And so it is, for this is the story of one of China's international concert pianists, Zhu Xiao-Mei.
Sent to the country during the Cultural Revolution during Mao Tsetung's time, Zhu was not allowed to practice her piano, as this was seen by the regime as decadent and foreign. But after many years of practicing 8 hours a day in Beijing, this did not come easily, so she had her mother send a piano to her on her commune. There with the help of her friends and an older woman, each day, after many hours working in the fields, and then hours of re-education, she secretly went to he place her piano was kept hidden and practiced her craft.
One evening after being discovered, she was held up to mockery and denunciation, while the piano was smashed. Her re-education now meant doing the lowliest tasks in the commune, collecting and disposing of the waste in the latrines. But all the while she kept her music alive in her head, until, one day when the leadership changed, she was summoned to Beijing.
For older readers, the story of one girl and the effects of the Cultural Revolution will add to their study of China. Facinghistory has a free study guide for classes looking at Red Scarf Girl and Mao's Last Dancer, and this guide has sections which could be useful when talking about The Red Piano, giving students some of the background. For younger reads, the story of bravery and resilience will be a wonderful book to have on hand in the classroom or library when looking at other stories that encourage compassion.
Fran Knight

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