CM . . .
. Volume XVII Number 1. . . .September 3, 2010
The Kugel Valley Klezmer Band.
Joan Betty Stuchner. Illustrated by Richard Row.
Northampton, MA: Crocodile Books (Distributed in Canada by Codasat Canada Ltd.), 2009.
32 pp., pbk. $9.95.
Klezmer music-Juvenile fiction.
Preschool-grade 3 / Ages 4-8.
Review by Reesa Cohen.
In the first few pages of this engaging Jewish folk tale, Joan Betty Stuchner helps the reader completely enter the world of Kugel Valley, a peaceful old fashioned village and surrounding farms, known for its famous layered noodle pudding, a Kugel. But that's not all for which this valley was known. Their Klezmer Band, a group of traveling musicians who played at social gatherings of all kinds, is a beloved, treasured part of the community that brings them great joy.
The trio consists of a bass, a clarinet and a fiddle, which was especially important to its unique sound. The clarinet player's daughter, Shira, always dreams of playing a fiddle in a Klezmer Band, even though she's never had a formal music lesson. But Shira feels that "this is Canada, where anything is possible." Isaac the fiddler, sensing Shira's love of this music and her possible talent, fashions a toy fiddle from some odd pieces of wood and encourages her to practice. And practice she does!
It will be no surprise to the reader that Shira's determination and perseverance help her to realize her dream as she fills in for the ailing Isaac at a Hanukkah party and is loved by the crowd. Her amazing and inspired playing is rewarded by a gift from her father.
Row's warm, richly coloured oil paintings that accompany the story seemed stilted and flat at first, even as they reflect a time, long ago. But, by the end of the story, they dramatically capture the flavour of the crowd, the movement, the excitement of the villagers, Shira's enthusiasm and the rambunctious playing of Kelzmer music.
Although The Kugel Valley Klezmer Band, with its strong ethnic flavour, is aimed primarily at those of Jewish heritage, this is still an accessible, yet predictable folk story and can be used in a study of folklore with many young children, in the early years. The front flyleaf contains a brief explanation of Klezmer music, the instruments that can be used and the sources to find more information. The back flyleaf has a note about the P J Library which publishes "high quality, age appropriate Jewish children's books." These books are sent out monthly to participating families. Their goal is to "help families explore the timeless core values of Judaism and to transmit these values to a new generation."
Now retired, Reesa Cohen was an Instructor of Children's Literature in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.
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