Farmer’s fictionalized account of Canadian jazz great Oscar Peterson riffs on his childhood in Montreal’s Little Burgundy neighborhood.
Through Millie, an invented, girl-next-door narrator, Farmer hits the high notes that shaped Peterson’s early life: diligent daily practice on trumpet and piano in a musical family, tuberculosis and a lengthy hospital confinement, and the subsequent realization that Oscar’s weakened lungs made playing the horn impossible. Most of the story is propelled by gentle, fictive vignettes: Oscar and Millie roam the neighborhood, play a prank on Reverend James, and—once Oscar’s back home—daydream together about the future. In between, Oscar’s and Millie’s mothers worry over Oscar’s temporary mutism, and Millie and her mother deliver a handmade card to the hospital. Lafrance’s stylized, digitally colored compositions present the community’s buildings and activities in a serenely nostalgic way. She skillfully incorporates textile patterns for clothing, wallpaper, and household items. Complementary colors of red-orange and teal blue create visual pop together and, when used singly, convey such emotions as anxiety and happiness. The illustrator’s signatures—button eyes, expressive eyebrows, and oddly clownlike mouths—are employed here. Some figural compositions look polished (such as a charming scene with Oscar and siblings on piano and horns); others look fuzzy and indistinct.
Farmer grew up in Little Burgundy, decades after Oscar. The underlying focus here is the longing for that neighborhood, since destroyed by an expressway, even more than the music. (author’s note) (Picture book. 5-8)