Music for Alice by Allen Say | Hardcover | Barnes & Noble
Music for Alice

Music for Alice

by Allen Say

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As a girl, Alice loved to dance, but the rhythms of her life offered little opportunity for a foxtrot, let alone a waltz. World War II erupted soon after she was married. Alice and her husband, along with many other Japanese Americans, were forced to leave their homes and report to assembly centers around the country. Undaunted, Alice and her husband learned to


As a girl, Alice loved to dance, but the rhythms of her life offered little opportunity for a foxtrot, let alone a waltz. World War II erupted soon after she was married. Alice and her husband, along with many other Japanese Americans, were forced to leave their homes and report to assembly centers around the country. Undaunted, Alice and her husband learned to make the most of every circumstance, from their stall in the old stockyard in Portland to the decrepit farm in the Oregon desert, with its field of stones. Like a pair of skilled dancers, they sidestepped adversity to land gracefully amid golden opportunity. Together they turned a barren wasteland into a field of endless flowers. Such achievements did not come without effort and sacrifice, though, and Alice often thought her dancing days were long behind her. But as her story testifies, life is full of changes . . .
In this striking book, Allen Say introduces readers to the remarkable story of the life of a woman whose perseverance and resilience serve as an inspirational reminder that dreams can be fulfilled, even when least expected.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"The drama is quiet. As always with Say, the exquisite watercolors tell an American story." Booklist, ALA

"Once again, Say practically takes one's breath away with the understated beauty of his watercolors." Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly
Once again, Say (Home of the Brave) practically takes one's breath away with the understated beauty of his watercolors. With a photo-like realism, he depicts Alice, an elderly Japanese-American woman, capturing every age spot and laugh line and making her radiant skin almost tactile. Her portrait telegraphs an inner peace and elegant beauty. Alice's story begins in California where, as a girl, she "loved dancing more than anything else." But after marrying, she embarks on a life of farming that allows little time for dancing. Say traces her uprooting during WWII, her ups and downs in the fields and the death of her husband. The narrative ends abruptly as the widowed, grieving Alice finds closure when she visits the farm she and her husband left 30 years before, finding it neglected and dilapidated. She declares, "Now I can dance!" The last image shows her dancing with a younger man, a scene that could profit from a bit more fleshing out ("And dance I do-all that I can"). Adults may respond best to this documentary-style life story. For example, the meaning of Alice's comment about their bustling farm ("What good is success if we can't enjoy ourselves?") may escape the picture-book audience. Nevertheless, fans of Say's artwork should relish these paintings. He accentuates the historical milieu with a palette of faded, often sepia tones and still, composed subjects who stare frankly at the audience-as though fully aware of the camera turned on their ordinary but eventful lives. All ages. (Mar.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
This story is based upon the life of Alice Sumida, a Japanese American woman who loved to dance. As a young girl, Alice went to all the school dances. She met Mark, and taught him the fox trot. They married and moved to Seattle, but after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor Alice and Mark were ordered to go to an assembly center until the internment centers were built. Alice found it hard to believe that her own government could be forcing her to live in such a way. When farmers came to the center asking for volunteers to work on the land, Alice and Mark saw this as their only way to avoid internment. They moved to Oregon and after finishing their job, were able to obtain a government loan and start their own farm. After the war, they established a large gladiola bulb farm, but Alice still wanted to dance. Years later, as an elderly woman, she visited the farm which had fallen into ruin, but suddenly she felt free, declaring. "Now I can Dance!" The paintings illustrating the story are detailed and stirring, but the theme of music and dance does not run throughout the story, although it would seem that Alice always was a dancer in her heart and in her mind even as she toiled on the farm. 2004, Walter Lorraine Books/Houghton Mifflin Company, Ages 6 to 9.
—Carolyn Mott Ford
School Library Journal
Gr 3 Up-Life changes drastically for Alice when World War II breaks out. Like many other Japanese Americans living on the West Coast, she and her husband are forced from their home. They choose to work as farm hands rather than be sent to an internment camp. Together, they overcome every indignity and challenge that come their way, and eventually build the largest gladiola bulb farm in the country. Say relates the true story of Alice Sumida in an understated and eloquent style. Alice's childhood love of dancing is deftly woven into the imagery of the text. As in much of his work, the masterful illustrations provide an emotional depth not always evident in the narration. The overall design, resembling a family photo album, accentuates the book as personal history. The detailed portraits and soft colors of the farm give way to drab hues and figures with nondescript features and wide-brimmed hats that hide their eyes and their identities-symbolic of the plight of Japanese Americans during the war. The final pictures of a now elderly Alice depict the spirit and dignity that her life story suggests. Although the book has much to recommend it, it may have more limited appeal than some of Say's earlier works. It is not as personal as Grandfather's Journey (1993) or Tea with Milk (1999, both Houghton). Many young readers may lack the perspective to relate to a tale that spans decades and deals with such complex themes. Still, with proper introduction, this offering will be appreciated by sensitive and sophisticated youngsters.-Heide Piehler, Shorewood Public Library, WI Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Understated full-page water-color paintings and a spare text tell the life story of Alice Sumida, who "loved dancing more than anything else." As a child, Alice wished that "Daddy's tractor would turn into a coach and take me dancing." After college she married Mark, who sold seeds. Like thousands of other Americans of Japanese descent, the couple was forced to evacuate during WWII. In the sandy desert of eastern Oregon, they leased land to start a farm of their own, and after years of hard work became "the largest gladiola bulb growers in the country." Eventually, they sold the business. "What good is success," Alice thought, "if we can't enjoy ourselves?" After her husband's death, Alice visits the farm, now in ruins. In a poignant moment, Alice realizes that now she can dance: "And dance I do-all that I can." Each of Say's exquisite paintings tells a story; together they create a moving testament to a life of hard work and dreams-dreams that find fulfillment in unanticipated ways. (Picture book. All ages)

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Edition description:
New Edition
Product dimensions:
11.00(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.36(d)
Age Range:
5 - 8 Years

Meet the Author

Allen Say was born in Yokohama, Japan, in 1937. He dreamed of becoming a cartoonist from the age of six, and, at age twelve, apprenticed himself to his favorite cartoonist, Noro Shinpei. For the next four years, Say learned to draw and paint under the direction of Noro, who has remained Say's mentor. Say illustrated his first children's book -- published in 1972 -- in a photo studio between shooting assignments. For years, Say continued writing and illustrating children's books on a part-time basis. But in 1987, while illustrating THE BOY OF THE THREE-YEAR NAP (Caldecott Honor Medal), he recaptured the joy he had known as a boy working in his master's studio. It was then that Say decided to make a full commitment to doing what he loves best: writing and illustrating children's books. Since then, he has written and illustrated many books, including TREE OF CRANES and GRANDFATHER'S JOURNEY, winner of the 1994 Caldecott Medal. He is a full-time writer and illustrator living in Portland, Oregon.

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