________________ CM . . . . Volume VII Number 12 . . . . February 16, 2001

cover The Magnificent Piano Recital.

Marilynn Reynolds. Illustrated by Laura Fernandez and Rick Jacobson.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2000.
32 pp., cloth, $19.95.
ISBN 1-55143-180-7.

Subject Headings:
Concerts-Juvenile fiction.
Piano-Performance-Juvenile fiction.

Kindergarten - grade 4 / Ages 5 - 9 .

Review by Val Nielsen.

***1/2 /4

image Marilynn Reynolds has a gift for translating her memories into stories set in an earlier era of Canadian history. Previous titles, such as Belle's Journey, The New Land, and her latest award-winning picture book, Prairie Fire, brought to life pioneer life on the prairies. In The Magnificent Piano Recital, Reynolds sets her story in the 1940's. One winter's night, eight-year-old Arabella and her mother arrive "...at a sawmill town on the edge of a great northern lake" accompanied only by three battered suitcases and a huge wooden crate containing a piano. Arabella's mother has a grand plan; she is going to teach the children of this little town to play the piano, and, in the spring time, they will hold a magnificent piano recital.

      Mother and daughter find it difficult to find acceptance with the practical folk of the town. Arabella's new teacher, Mrs. Bat, makes her disapproval of her new pupil's frilly dress and ringlets obvious when she hands out instruments for the Rhythm Band. Given last choice, Arabella is left with a pair of wooden blocks to accompany her teacher's loud banging on the piano. As the winter wears on, Arabella's mother gradually wins the respect of the townspeople as more and more parents bring their children to her for piano lessons. Every night, Arabella sits down at the piano and plays to ease the misery and loneliness of her days at school. Finally, spring comes, and, with it, the recital where Arabella at last has a chance to show the whole town (including Mrs. Bat) her true worth.

      Laura Fernandez and Rick Jacobson, the gifted wife-and-husband team whose last memorable title was Maxine Trottier's Prairie Willow, have brought the characters and setting of this tender story into wonderfully clear focus with the detailed realism of their art work. In older readers, the full-color illustrations will inspire the same sort of nostalgia that Norman Rockwell paintings do. Many beautifully rendered images, such as the old treadle sewing machine, the scratched hinge-topped wooden school desks and Mother's seamed stockings, give the reader a sense of being there. The closeness of Arabella and her mother, which is shown (never told) in Reynolds' simple yet compelling prose, is made touchingly clear in the artists' depiction of the two characters.

      Elementary school librarians will welcome The Magnificent Piano Recital into their collection of historical Canadian picture books. Grandparents will enjoy the re-creation of small-town post-war Canada, and teachers should find it an engaging read-aloud for children from Kindergarten to Grade 4.

Highly Recommended.

A retired teacher-librarian with a continuing interest in juvenile literature, Valerie Nielsen lives in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364