Thursday, January 7, 2010

REVIEW: The Fabulous Feud of Gilbert & Sullivan

The Fabulous Feud Of Gilbert And SullivanWinter, J.  (2009).  The Fabulous Feud of Gilbert & Sullivan.  New York:  Arthur A. Levine Books.


Appetizer:  Gilbert and Sullivan were partners.  Gilbert would write "ridiculous" operas and Sullivan would create the melodies, even though he dreamed of creating the music for a tragic opera.  One day, Sullivan hung up the phone when Gilbert wanted him to yet again write the music for another topsy-turvy opera.  Gilbert, at first confused by Sullivan's behavior, became angry and their fight turns into a feud, that only writing a new opera together can put to rest.

I particularly liked how the illustrations often showed Gilbert on one side of the two-page spread and Sullivan on the other side.  Readers can see the different styles and colors that differentiate the two men's styles.

As I read, I did wish that the picture book mentioned or showed images from some of the operas that Gilbert and Sullivan had worked on together.  The operas are listed in the Author's Note, but it would have been nice to have that reminder much sooner.  In its defense, the story does go into details of how Gilbert and Sullivan worked together to create The Mikado, but if the reader hasn't been introduced to that opera by the teacher, it may not seem that meaningful.

Dinner Conversation:

"There was a time when jolly old England was not so jolly.  Children worked in factories.  Queen Victoria frowned.  Everything was the make-believe kingdom of Topsy-Turvydom."

"And in the kingdom, there were two kings.  Well, they weren't really kings.  They were two gentlemen:  Mr. Gilbert...and Mr. Sullivan.  You see, they were the ones who wrote these operas."

"This drove Mr. Sullivan crazy.  He wrote the music for these operas.  And he longed, more than anything, to write a serious opera, a grand opera."

"It may have looked silly--but it worked.  Somehow, these little wooden figures turned into live human beings.  And when the curtain rose on opening night, it was a stunning sight."

To Go with the Meal:

Okay, so I've spent my whole life wandering around, aware the Gilbert and Sullivan were a famous musical partnership, but I never really gave any thought to the men behind the names, and I doubt I'm not the only person to have done that.

I liked that the book describes Gilbert and Sullivan's partnership as a friendship.  When Sullivan didn't want to write the music for yet another silly romance, Gilbert wondered if he'd done something.  It parallels many playground fights, in which I wondered why my best friend was playing with Mary instead of me.  I especially like that the book goes on to show that despite their differences, Gilbert and Sullivan's friendship could survive the occasional fight.

Aside from being used to discuss arguments among friends, The Fabulous Feud of Gilbert &; Sullivan could also be used to prepare a child to go to the opera for the first time (especially if the student is off to see H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance or another Gilbert and Sullivan production).  Or at the very least, a music teacher could summarize part of the plot of one of the operas and have students listen to the music.

I also liked that the book showed the creation process for an opera, how the story was written, the music produced, then wooden models were used to prepare the setting before actors and singers were chosen.  A teach could use this picturebook to help guide a student drama production through the steps as they prepare the set and practice.

What is more, since the story share how the partners created the opera, The Mikado, the text briefly shares how white Englishmen portrayed Japanese characters.  A teacher could use this as a teaching moment to discuss how many people (women, blacks, people from other countries, etc.) were not allowed to perform on stage (or in movies!) historically and how sometimes this can still be an issue of representation and authenticity (with older kids, the teacher could mention how Robert Downey Jr.'s character in Tropic Thunder is playing with the historic and controversial tendency to use blackface).

Since this is a text-heavy picturebook with some more difficult vocabulary words, it would have to be a read aloud for younger readers, but by fourth grader, a reader should have no problem picking up the book on his or her own (that is, if they don't take offense to the thought of having to read a "baby book" as all picturebooks become after a certain age).

Tasty Rating:  !!!

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