________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 11 . . . . February 3, 2006


Emily’s Piano.

Charlotte Gingras. Illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch. Translated by Susan Ouriou.
Toronto, ON: Annick, 2005.
60 pp., pbk. & cl., $8.95 (pbk.), $18.95 (cl.).
ISBN 1-55037-912-7 (pbk.), ISBN 1-55037-913-5 (cl.).

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Ruth Scales McMahon.

*** /4


The piano is gone. The flowered couch, too. And my parents' bed. We've gone in one direction, my grandma in another. It's a terrible monstrous move. The day before, I heard my father say to my mom, in a voice not to be argued with, "We'll sell the piano and some of the furniture. There won't be enough room in the new apartment."

It's true the piano was out of tune, abandoned at the back of the long living room. No one had played it for years, I was the only one who still visited it, stroking its sides, sitting under its belly to read or daydream.


Emily's parents’ marriage is over in all but appearances. Her father is having an affair, and they are moving out of their home into a small two-bedroom apartment, an action which necessitates the selling of the beloved grand piano and the relocation of her grandmother to a nursing home. Emily's mother obsesses with painting various things (from a Buddha to picture frames). Emily’s married older sisters have little sympathy for their mother's depression. Emily believes the key to turning her family around is to find the grand piano.

     Initially, she goes on a door-to-door search for the piano but with no luck. Then she has the inspiration to call the piano tuners listed in the telephone book. One of the tuners believes he knows her piano and arranges to meet her in a café in an adjacent neighbourhood. Eventually Emily is reunited with the piano which now resides in a convent (which houses a soup kitchen) rotunda used by Sister Isabelle for teaching. Emily is invited to return every Sunday and bring her mother.

     Emily does bring her mother, and she plays, sings and cries. Her playing leads to a Christmas Day concert given by her mother in the rotunda for the patrons of the soup kitchen, and it also leads to the passing on of Sister Isabelle's piano students to Emily's mother. 

     The first person narrative is powerful and succinct which also points to great translation. Readers are caught up in Emily's struggle to help her mother and her family. There is surprising depth to the character development in such a short novel. While the plot is engaging and has an emotional depth, the resolution is overly simple and too quick. Once the piano is found, Emily’s mother is playing and singing again, seemingly no longer depressed. She will take over Sister Isabelle's piano class (one wonders why Sister Isabelle bought this new grand piano if she was planning to give up teaching). These two events instantly make Emily's mother happy. Again, one wonders why her mother had not played the piano for years before it was sold.

     The line drawings, which reflect the angst, intensity and joy expressed in the text, add to the reader's experience. The design/presentation of this book is somewhat misleading. The frequent illustrations, scant text and large print lead one to think that it is a book for a younger audience than the text and the subject matter reveal.

     One image that strikes the reader as unusual is the following: "... then just as I am leaving [the convent], I glance at the wall next to the door and see a small picture of a man with a shaved head wearing a red robe. He has glasses and is smiling: he must be one of those Tibetan monks. His eyes love me." Is this a picture of the Dalai Lama in a Roman Catholic convent?


Ruth Scales McMahon is a professional children's librarian, the co-chair of the Rocky Mountain Book Award and the mother of two young children.


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

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