cover image The Red Piano

The Red Piano

André Leblanc, trans. from the French by Justine Werner, illus. by Barroux, Wilkins Farago (IPG/Trafalgar, dist.), $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-9806070-1-7

This French picture book biography of Chinese concert pianist Zhu Xiao-Mei documents the years she spent in a re- education camp during the Cultural Revolution, earning a comparison to Chen Jiang Hong's Mao and Me (2008), with similarly somber brush and ink paintings and a narrative that pulls no punches. "Tonight marks the end of her fifth year in exile. Like thousands of others, her father, mother and four sisters have been dispatched to other camps. Pianos are criminal. Pianists are criminals." Zhu arranges to have a piano sent secretly into the country and practices for hours after punishing days in the fields. Barroux's red, black, and white paintings offer little comfort; when the piano is found and Zhu is condemned, the figures of the guards who excoriate her tower over her. Only Mao's death releases her, and even the ending is ambiguous: "She leaves beneath the pale light of the moon, clutching only her tiny, surviving notebooks." While Zhu's story makes for stark reading, it offers an impressive example of human resilience. Ages 7–9. (Jan.)