Song Of Life
A memorable book describes beauty in the heart of madness.
he Harmonica by Tony Johnston, with illus-
trations by Ron Mazellan. Copyright 2004 by
Charlesbridge Publishing (1-617-926-0329 or
wwwcharlesbridge.com). Hardback. 32 pages.
Based on the magnificent illustrations alone you will
want to read this book, but you might be tempted to
toss it aside as an impossible story about the
Holocaust. So know in advance that it is based on a
The Harmonica is the tale of a poor boy (in real life
named Henry Rosmarin, of Czeladz, Poland) who
receives a harmonica from his father. Henry learns to
play in a home filled with music, especially Schubert.
When the Nazis invade Poland, Henry's parents are
murdered, but Henry is taken to a concentration
camp. Somehow, he manages to keep his harmonica.
When the camp commandant hears Henry play, he
asks for regular private concerts, where he tosses Henry
bits of bread.
But Henry grows to hate the harmonica. He hates
the commandant. He feels "sick, getting bread while
others starved to death."
Then one day another prisoner tells Henry, "Bless
you [for the] Schubert."
So Henry continues to play, remembering his moth-
er and father and playing for prisoners "without hope,
who might hear the notes and be lifted, like flights of
This is a beautifully illustrated and written book,
which will appeal to older children and adults.
(Though the text is brief, the language is almost poetic
and likely will not be enjoyed by children age 6 and
younger). The story leaves you breathless with its very
concept: beauty in the heart of insanity and sorrow.
One small complaint. The publishers chose a quote
— a lovely quote — by Zelda Fitzgerald to appear on
the back of the book: "Nobody has measured, even
poets, how much a heart can hold."
Apparently no one at the publishing company knew
how much Zelda Fitzgerald's heart held when it came
to Jews; she was anti-Semitic, which makes her a curi-
ous person to quote on the back of a book about the
No Rules For Michael by Sylvia A. Rouss, with illustra-
tions by Susan Simon. Copyright 2004, published by
Kar-Ben (1-800-4KARBEN, or www.kareben.com).
24 pages. Paperback. $6.95. Also available at
Be careful what you wish for, a wise old saying goes.
You may. get it.
Michael is a little boy who wishes for no rules. He's
learning the Ten Commandments at school and he
tells his teacher, "It would be a lot more fun if we
could do whatever we wanted. School would be the
best place if we didn't have any rules."
His teacher decides to give it a try. No rules at
school tomorrow, she says. Michael is jumping for joy.
It doesn't take long, however, for Michael to see the
wisdom of living by the rules. When he's doing a puz-
zle, a girl comes by and grabs a piece. She won't give it
back. "There aren't any rules today," she tells him. "I
don't have to share."
When it's circle time, Michael wants his turn to
speak. But no one is quiet. The children yell that they
don't have to be quiet. "There are no rules today."
Sylvia Rouss is best known as the author of the
Sammy the Spider series, which are her finest work. No
Rules For Michaelis cute enough, but this has been
done before. In fact, many parents have employed the
technique. Nice art, so-so story.
The Harper and the King: The Story of Young David
CD by Odds Bodkin. Copyright 2004, released by
Rivertree Productions, Inc. (1-800-554 1333, or
wvvvv.oddsbodkin.com). 60 minutes. $14.95.
King David is one of the most enchanting and
memorable characters in Jewish history. The grandson
of a convert, a gentle shepherd, he grew to be the
leader of the Jewish people.
Now guitarist/storyteller Odds Bodkin gives his ren-
dition of the life of young David.
What is inarguable: Odds Bodkin is a fabulous
musician. He plays throughout the telling, and his
music is wondrous. It's engaging, expressive, mesmeriz-
ing. Though the CD continues for a full hour, you'll
never tire of hearing him play.
Bodkin also is a fine storyteller. With nothing more
than his guitar and voice, he manages to paint a scene
more captivating than much of what you see on the
big screen. Even if you know the story of King David,
he brings you right in and keeps you the entire jour-
Be advised, however, that this CD really is not for
small children. There's a bit of violence (the Goliath
scene), but the main issue is that it's simply too long
for young children (despite the fact that the tape is rec-
ommended for children 7 and older). A 7-, 8- or even
9-year-old likely will not sit still for an entire hour,
much less to listen to a CD that is pleasant, but hardly
Further, adult listeners will quickly tire of Bodkin's
accents. King Saul, David's father Jesse and David
himself all have the most usual accents. Sometimes
they sound Irish, sometimes a bit like a modern Israeli,
sometimes as though they come from one of those
countries that used to be part of the Soviet Union.
Listeners also will quickly grow weary of Bodkins'
insistence on saying "Israeli" with an authentic, mod-
ern, Israeli pronunciation.
Bodkins is a good-enough story teller that he
shouldn't have to resort to silly techniques. As he
shows when speaking the gruff voice of Jesse, there are
SONG OF LIFE on page 22