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BRUNDIBAR by Tony Kushner Kirkus Star

BRUNDIBAR

By Tony Kushner (Author) , Maurice Sendak (Illustrator)

Age Range: 8 & up

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-7868-0904-3
Publisher: Michael di Capua/Scholastic

This brilliant and disturbing rendition of an old Czech opera honors history in a stunning piece of art. A small brother and sister need money to buy milk for their sick mother, but singing in the town square is impossible because bully Brundibar claims the territory. Adults throwing money at Brundibar’s “bellowing” can’t hear Pepicek and Aninku at all; when the children challenge him by turning briefly into bears, the masses declare “Call the cop!” and “No bears on the square! It’s the law!” Brundibar’s alarming song gets louder and scarier until Pepicek and Aninku run away. They hide in a gloomy alley (reminiscent of We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy) until 300 children arrive and help them triumph over evil Brundibar. The original opera, written in 1938, was performed by children in Terezin who were awaiting transport to Nazi death camps. Kushner’s stellar rhythmic text sticks to the opera’s storyline, while Sendak’s incredible illustrations sprinkle in horrifying historical details as well as references to earlier Sendak masterworks. Though there’s far more here than a simple metaphor, the occasional yellow stars on clothing and an “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign (recalling the entrance to Auschwitz) make the Holocaust unavoidably present for readers who recognize such symbols. Other readers will find comfort in the sunny beginning and end, but will still see darkness, danger, and Brundibar’s threat to return. Sendak and Kushner complement each other perfectly as they merge merriness with tragedy and political commentary. A heartbreaking, hopeful masterpiece with powerful implications for contemporary readers. (Picture book. 8+)