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When Rubin Plays

by Gracey Zhang

“In a small town by a big forest, there was a little orchestra …” Gracey Zhang’s whimsical narration, paired with vibrant and colourful artwork, sets the stage for this funny and uplifting tale of music, passion, and, above all, joy.

In When Rubin Plays, a young boy so loves listening to his town’s orchestra perform that he asks the Maestro to let him join. His early attempts at making the violin sing are hilarious: the caption “eeeiiieeooih” howls across a two-page spread of orchestra members staring with varying degrees of shock and laughter as the music sends pages of sheet music flying around the room. The Maestro’s horrified recoil contrasts perfectly with Rubin’s blissful grin. Rubin later finds he prefers to practice outdoors in the forest, to an appreciative audience (whose composition won’t be spoiled in this review).

From there, one expects the story to go in one of two directions: either Rubin practices diligently and succeeds in making his instrument harmonize with the rest of the orchestra, or he leans hard into his special style of music and celebrates the listeners who do appreciate that sound. Yet Zhang subverts expectations, and shows that Rubin can achieve both.

When the orchestra puts on a concert, Rubin starts off playing softly, but with the  encouragement of his sister (and fellow orchestra member) Violet, he quickly shifts over into playing his song with whole-hearted gusto. The result is a cacophony of joyful chaos. Rubin’s long-time fans tear through the crowd to listen and to dance, and their arrival sends the townspeople jumping to their feet: “Even the townspeople danced, shimmying, twisting all around on the ground. The louder Rubin played, the louder the little choir howled, waltzing in rapture to Rubin’s violin.”

The story ends where it began, with the little orchestra in a small town by a big forest, but now, with Rubin on board, there’s the additional detail that the orchestra plays “sounds that feel like flying.” Through Zhang’s evocative narration and lively art, we know a bit about how that feels.


Reviewer: Jaclyn Qua-Hiansen

Publisher: Orchard Books


Price: $24.99

Page Count: 56 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 978-1-33864-826-3

Released: July

Issue Date: July 2023

Categories: Kids’ Books, Picture Books

Age Range: 4–8