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Brundibar by Tony Kushner

Brundibar (original 2003; edition 2003)

by Tony Kushner

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4211239,990 (3.94)7
Aninku and Pepicek find their mother sick one morning, they need to buy her milk to make her better. The brother and sister go to town to make money by singing. But a hurdy-gurdy grinder, Brundibar, chases them away. They are helped by three talking animals and three hundred schoolchildren, to defeat the bully. Brundibar is based on a Czech opera for children that was performed fifty-five times by the children of Terezin, a Nazi concentration camp in 1943.… (more)
Authors:Tony Kushner
Info:New York City, NY: Michael di Capua Books / Hyperion Books for Children, 2003. 1 v. (unpaged) ; 23 cm. 1st ed
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Brundibar by Tony Kushner (Author) (2003)


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In this adaptation by Tony Kushner we have a updated version of the late Slovakian Opera piece, Brundibar. Brundibar, a vile bully in the story tries to scare of two children, Aninku and Pepicek, from making money on the streets singing to save up to buy some milk for their sick mother back home. The doctor sends them into town to find milk. Illustrated by the talented Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are) I thought I would read this tale since I was researching children's book's on the holocaust. It was a very interesting story, very straight forward, where their are heros and a main antagonist. What I found interesting was that the opera was performed the children of Terezin from the concentration camp during World War 2. The children performed it for the Nazi's 52 times. Kushner's adaptation at the very end has a page where the children, town, and animals all cry out that tyrants will never last and that to have courage and hope in the face of tyranny. What an inspiring and lovely book. It brought tears to my eyes. Every child has their own Brundibar, or bully and the lesson is that we must always stand as a group against the bully and the tyrant. Lastly, the book contains significant songs and rhymes that children can enjoy will practicing their rhyming words and meter. ( )
  W.Arute | Oct 19, 2019 |
Two children go into town to fetch fresh milk for their ailing mother. However, they don't have the money to pay for it so they try singing in the square to make some change. But Brundibar drowns out their singing with his organ grinding. Can the children overcome the bully and get the milk their mother needs?

This book is based on an opera of the same name, which was infamously performed by children held in a Nazi concentration camp. While the text of the book makes no mention of anything related to World War II or the Holocaust, Sendak's illustrations do. An optimistic ending about help always being available keeps the book from being too heartbreaking, but then a final page spread has a note from Brundibar saying how "Bullies don't give up completely. One departs, the next appears..." I suppose that is meant to be cautionary in a "never forget" way, but it does leave the book on a bit of downer. ( )
1 vote sweetiegherkin | Mar 17, 2018 |
When Aninku and Pepicek discover one morning that their mother is sick, they
rush to town for milk to make her better. Their attempt to earn money by
singing is thwarted by a bullying, bellowing hurdy-gurdy grinder, Brundibar,
who tyrannizes the town square and chases all other street musicians away.
  collectionmcc | Mar 6, 2018 |
Continuing my quest to read all Maurice Sendack books, I finished Brundibar last night.

There is a very tragic story behind this book. Based on a Czech opera, set to music by a Hans Krasa.

As Nazi Germany and the evilness of Hitler and his henchmen were creeping and then running frantically to exterminate Jews, the opera Brundibar was performed by children of in the concentration camp of Terezin.

Used as propaganda, the play was performed 55 times.

Sadly, the composer Krasa was imprisoned in Terezin and later killed in 1944 in Auschwitz.

The book is written by the playwright Tony Kushner with stunning illustrations by Sendak.

When Aniku and Pepicek awake to find their mother gravely ill, they call a doctor who informs them fresh milk will save their mother.

With no money, they trek a long way into the town square where many are selling and buying. Alas, the milk man turns them away because they cannot pay for his ware.

Meeting a nasty hurdy gurdy Brundibar who bullies and frightens them while trying to thwart their plans, eventually, the town of 300 children sing in order for Aniku and Pepicek to buy milk.

In real life tragically, often after children performed the play in Treblinka, they were transported to Auschwitz. Still, time and time again, knowing that some of them were slated to die, they sang on and on.


Throughout Sendak's illustrations the town square is filled with people wearing the yellow star imposed upon them by the Nazis. The play and the book, while dark and stark in theme, realistically depict good vs evil.

Please take a few minutes (18 of them) and watch this interview with Bill Moyers. It is incredibly insightful and beautiful.

http://www.pbs.org/now/arts/sendak.html ( )
  Whisper1 | Jun 3, 2013 |
Reason for Reading: I pick up Maurice Sendak books simply because I love his illustrations, though I prefer the non-monster stuff. When I got home and read the story behind this picture book I was greatly intrigued.

This book can be read on two levels. One simply read the cute, fun story about children winning over a bully to young children. There are a few frightening scenes and the story ends on an uncomfortable note but most children should get a shiver and a giggle from the story.

On the second level what we have here is a very deep, symbolic rendering of the Holocaust in picture book format. Have older children read the jacket flaps, look up the story behind this opera and deal with the sad reality of where this story came from. Then read the story and look carefully at the pictures because Sendak has used a lot of symbolism and hidden small images some of which may have only meaning to him. I would love to read a critical essay on the illustrations of this book. Some characters in the town have yellow Stars of David sewn to their chests, others have yellow arm bands, there are Stars of David in the occasional window and in the background we can occasionally see crosses on top of church steeples. The authority figures have an arm raised as if in a "heil", they also often have a leg poised as if ready to march goose step. The villain Brundibar has a Hitler mustache and his organ grinder monkey is wearing a German helmet. The Dr. is distinctly portrayed as Jewish and the final scene shows the mother's bedroom with a crucifix on the wall where there clearly wasn't one in the opening scene. Also if you look closely you'll find the names of the composers written on the wall within the pages and every here and there is a haunting shadowy image of a tattered child in the background. I could go on ...

All this to say, this picture book left me feeling sad for the fate of those who wrote and preformed this opera and also for the message that while we can beat bullies when we come together, there will unfortunately always be another one around another corner. Yet at the same time I was boosted by the spirit of the real people who lived (really *lived*) while they were dying in those horrifying concentration camps. This book is a classic and should not be forgotten. Thanks to Hyperion for keeping it in print. While a picture book, it would make a great addition to middle/high school courses on WWII. ( )
  ElizaJane | Feb 21, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kushner, TonyAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sendak, MauriceIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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