Washington Post Book World
This tale, based on a 1938 Czech opera performed by children in the Nazi concentration camp at Terezin, near Prague, is retold by playwright Tony Kushner, but it is pure Sendak just the same: multi-layered, quirky and more than a little didactic. For once, though, the moral is crystal clear: Bullies and tyrants are always with us, but they can be temporarily routed.
....On one level just a jaunty tale of a small-town bully's comeuppance, on another level Brundibar appears to be a parable of the Holocaust, the ultimate image of murderous oppression. Sendak's illustrations, among the best he has ever done, navigate between the two.
....Children won't grasp most of these symbols unaided, but they will sense the dark undercurrent in a general way -- and the chill rising off the final page, with its postcard from the vanquished Brundibar, promising to return, for "nothing ever works out neatly -- Bullies don't give up completely. One departs, the next appears." Luckily, we sense that Sendak's feisty urchins, in their rainbow-colored rags, will be ready for him. Elizabeth Ward
The New York Times
Just when one might have thought that the most celebrated living picture-book artist could retire with his laurels, along comes Maurice Sendak's collaboration with Tony Kushner, Brundibar, a capering picture book crammed with melodramatic menace and comedy both low and grand.
In a career that spans 50 years and counting, as Sendak's does, there are bound to be lesser works. Brundibar is not lesser than anything.
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Kushner adapts this allegorical tale from a Czech opera created by Hans Kr sa and Adolf Hoffmeister in 1938 (see Children's Books, Oct. 27). A doctor wearing the Star of David on his jacket dispatches siblings Aninku and Pepicek to town to find milk for their sick mother. Sendak, in a mix of fantasy and reality elements reminiscent of his In the Night Kitchen (especially the cameo appearance of a baker), thrusts the siblings-and readers-into an exotic backdrop of stone buildings topped by spires and turrets, but with familiar details such as a horse grazing behind a picket fence and a field of flowers. The two try to earn money to buy the milk, but their voices are drowned out by the noise of the "bellowing Brundibar"; Brundibar's refrain ("Little children, how I hate 'em/ How I wish the bedbugs ate 'em") exemplifies Kushner's skill at tempering the potentially frightening with the comic. The dialogue and comments featured in balloons above the characters also inject an appealing spontanaeity and levity to the proceedings. A trio of talking animals and 300 children come to the duo's aid. Working in colored pencils, crayons and brush pens, Sendak conjures bustling Slavic city streets and effectively juxtaposes innocence and evil in the cherubic visages of the children and Brundibar's ominously hyperbolic facial features (the villain's manicured mustache calls to mind the reigning tyrant of the time). Despite a final threat from Brundibar, the story is ultimately one of hope, as the children and their allies band together to defeat the evil foe. The collaborators wisely allow readers to appreciate the story on one level, yet those familiar with the opera's origins (a note in the flap copy tells of Kr sa's death at Auschwitz) will find a haunting subtext here. All ages. (Nov.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Aninku and Pepicek rush to town because the doctor says that their sick mother must have milk. There they try to sing to earn money to buy it. But a nasty organ grinder thwarts their attempts. Helped by animals and a troupe of children, they sing until the money accumulated in their bucket buys the milk to make their mother well. The triumphant chorus of "the wicked never win" is particularly poignant because this story is based on a Czech opera performed by the children at the Terezin concentration camp; the text includes what must be the words to arias from that opera. And after the happy ending comes a chilling warning from the wicked Brundibar, "I'll be back." Sendak creates many delightful new characters, but also includes familiar faces from previous creations, all in his recognizable style. The full color illustrations appear as stage sets, with some text in speech balloons and a running commentary in upper case letters. The scenes are crowded with groups of townspeople and details of place (including yellow stars and skull caps on some of the crowd); they are of joy, of despair, of comic melodrama, rich with visual challenges. Do not miss the end-papers and the contrasting jacket and cover. 2003, Michael Di Capua Books/Hyperion Books for Children, Ages 4 up.
Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
The artistry and imagination of Sendak and Kushner elevate this picture book to a new level. It is based on a 1938 Czech opera that was composed by a prisoner of Terezin, the Nazi concentration camp. He eventually died in Auschwitz, but the piece was produced fifty-five times by the children of the camp. In the opera, a brother and sister run to town to get milk for their sick mother, but they have no money and the vendor will not give them milk. They notice the rich townspeople flinging coins at the hurdy-gurdy man, Brundibar, and they decide to sing as well, but Brundibar chases them away. Discouraged, they hide in an alley where a sparrow, a cat, and a dog encourage them to ask for help. When three hundred children come to help them sing a lullaby, they collect enough money to buy the milk. Hope is found because friendly children band together to stand up to the evil Brundibar. Kushner's story line complements Sendak's vivid pictures. Sendak's illustrations, however, are filled with symbols. Many children and adults have yellow stars sewn on their clothing; Brundibar's military uniform exudes power with its medals and iron crosses; his monkey wears a spiked military helmet; and the surrounding buildings include church spires and synagogues with the Star of David. The colors are bright, defying the darkness underneath; the details are infinite yet ironic. Is it a Holocaust book? It is a story about good triumphing over evil that any teacher can bring into the classroom for discussion. The words and pictures challenge the imagination and observation of all readers: What do these words mean? What does one see in these pictures? One might first ask why the Nazis would allow this opera tobe performed at Terezin fifty-five times. It is an amazing book to share with secondary students. VOYA Codes: 4Q 4P M J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2003, Michael Di Capua Books/Hyperion, 56p., Ages 11 to 18.
Sarah K. Herz, Guest Reviewer
School Library Journal
K Up-A picture book based on a 1938 Czech opera, originally performed by the children of Terezin. A brother and sister try to get milk for their sick mother. They sing for coins in the town square, but Brundibar the organ grinder drowns out their words with his "teeth-chattery bone-rattley horrible song." Pepicek and Aninku then join voices with 300 other children and earn enough coins to fill their "soon-to-be-milkbucket." The playful language, with occasional rhyme and alliteration, is a perfect match for Sendak's spirited young heroes. The illustrations reflect varied undertones of a powerful story that works on different levels, including many references to the Holocaust. Scenes in the town show rich adults ignoring the desperate siblings, while other children also suffer from hunger. A banner matches a sign that covered the gates of Auschwitz, and several townsfolk wear yellow Stars of David. Brundibar vaguely resembles Hitler, particularly in one scene where he appears, huge and purple faced, with a clenched fist. A wordless spread showing grieving parents is poignant in itself, but tragic within the Holocaust context. Most kids won't get the literal references, but will respond directly to the images of the ominous, yet hopeful world depicted. In the end everyone sings triumphantly that "the wicked never win" and "our friends make us strong," but a final scribbled message from Brundibar promises that he'll be back. This is an ambitious picture book that succeeds both as a simple children's story and as a compelling statement against tyranny.-Steven Engelfried, Beaverton City Library, OR Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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+)