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The Kugel Valley Klezmer Band

by Joan Betty Stuchner, Richard Row, illus.

Kugel Valley is famous for its kugel (noodle pudding) and its klezmer band, featuring Isaac, “the best fiddle player this side of Nova Scotia.” Shira, the 10-year-old daughter of Yossi, the clarinet player, has always dreamed of playing the fiddle. Isaac encourages her by making her a toy fiddle, which she practices joyfully in the forest. All that practice pays off, for when Isaac comes down with a bad cold just when the band has an important gig at a Chanukah party, Shira steps in and saves the day. The story is predictable (the inviting cover even shows Shira playing with the band onstage) but satisfying, and Vancouver writer and poet Stuchner carries it off with panache. Toronto artist Row’s lively narrative oil paintings transport what is essentially an Eastern European shtetl community to a Nova Scotia farming village. The warm colours and dramatic lighting bring to mind Janet Wilson’s work.

I have a few mild reservations about the story. The fact that Shira never has an actual lesson does strain credulity a bit. Also, her father, a musician himself, seems not to notice that Shira, whose name means “song” in Hebrew, is intensely musical. Or perhaps he just doesn’t think girls should be musicians. This is also a story of Old World versus New World values: Shira thinks that in Canada, anything should be possible. Yossi isn’t convinced until she performs with the band, and then is a quick convert to the idea, presenting her with her own instrument for Chanukah. This is an enjoyable tale to tell or read aloud to four- to eight-year-olds … and then play your favourite klezmer tape.