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Book Reviews

The Flute

by Rachna Gilmore; Pulak Biswas, illus.

Waters rising uncontrollably, sweeping a child’s parents away before her horrified eyes – the recent disasters in Japan and elsewhere have made such images all too familiar. Ottawa author Rachna Gilmore tempers the horror of such situations through a folk tale that begins with “long ago and far away,” is shot through with the love of the lost mother, and has a happy ending.

Gilmore knows how to tell a compelling tale and make a picture book story sing. Indeed, music is the means by which little Chandra is able to survive the loss of her parents, mistreatment by the relatives who take her in, famine, and another terrible flood that nearly drowns her. Before being swept away, Chandra’s mother passed her an old wooden flute. In times of sadness, the flute becomes the mother’s spirit, comforting the little girl. The moon, for which Chandra was named, is another powerful image in the story, also linking the child with her mother and with the healing – as well as destructive – forces of nature.

Stylized and simple almost to the point of starkness, the images by celebrated New Delhi illustrator Pulak Biswas effectively convey the elemental nature of the story. The limited colour palette of blue river, red sari and hair ribbon, and yellow sun and moon makes these central images glow in contrast to the greys and blacks that surround them.