cover image A Song for Cambodia

A Song for Cambodia

Michelle Lord, , illus. by Shino Arihara. . Lee & Low, $16.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-1-60060-139-2

This biographical story about a Cambodian boy who survives the reign of the Khmer Rouge may be more educational than engaging, but it offers an age-appropriate view of a subject rarely visited in children’s books. Lord (Little Sap and Monsieur Rodin ) begins with Arn Chorn-Pond’s idyllic upbringing in a home “filled with the sweet sounds of music and laughter” and quickly shifts to the invasion of his village in 1975 by the Khmer Rouge, who dispatch Arn to a horrific children’s work camp. Starving, working endless hours in the rice paddies, Arn steps forward when soldiers ask for volunteers to learn to play the khim , a wooden string instrument, and the songs “filled Arn’s empty stomach and soothed his broken heart.” Heavy with brown and gray, Arihara’s (Ceci Ann’s Day of Why ) bleak paintings depict the dreadful, e.g., a soldier with a machine gun marches away with the khim teacher and less successful music students (they go “to the sweet-smelling orange groves, and the solider returned alone”). The tale ends with Arn’s escape, adoption by an American volunteer and gradual entry into American life, where he recovers from trauma by playing the music of his native land. Endnotes describe his ongoing efforts to rebuild Cambodia and revive its arts. Ages 6-11. (Mar.)