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Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin

by Chieri Uegaki; Qin Leng (illus.)

With only three violin lessons under her belt, Hana Hashimoto signs up for the school talent show. Though her brothers flee the house to escape the horrible noise and her dog growls in protest, Hana practises faithfully every day. Remembering a summer spent in Japan with her grandfather, a talented violinist who once played in a symphony orchestra, Hana is determined to make melodious music of her own. When the time comes for her to take centre stage, she can hear the encouraging words of her far-away grandfather: “‘Gambarunoyo, Hana-chan.’ Do your best.” With great aplomb, Hana performs her first “raw squawky notes.” Dragging the bow across the strings, she perfectly imitates the yowling of her “neighbour’s cat at night.” Plucking the strings evokes “the sound of rain on a paper umbrella.” This inspired cacophony hits all the right notes with the audience.

Author Chieri Uegaki’s lyrical language sings with descriptive images: “clear, bright notes would drift upstairs, through the shoji screen doors to where Hana slept on sweet-smelling tatami mats, and coax her awake as gently as sunshine.” Young performers will relate to Hana’s stage fright as she waits behind the curtain with a “walloping heart” and “swallow[s] her nerves like medicine.”

Qin Leng’s digitally coloured pencil illustrations have a spontaneous, effervescent quality. The Japanese setting is brought to life with fireflies lighting up the indigo evenings and musical notation floating through the air as Hana’s grandfather sits on the veranda and plays requests for his family. Especially poignant are the scenes in which Hana hesitantly faces the audience. A darkly foreboding bare stage engulfs the girl’s tiny figure as she makes her way to the microphone.

Readers will cheer for Hana and applaud her determination, perseverance, and intrinsic
love of music.