What does courage look like? What does a hero look like?
In the 1990s in the city of Sarajevo a young boy named Drasko goes to the marketplace every day with his father, Milo, to sell flowers. Milo is a kind man who sees the best things in everyone...even in the mean and grumpy spice seller whose stand is next to theirs each day. Milo has a nose for the best flowers.
Then, war comes and the country is being torn apart. Milo leaves for the battlefield and Drasko stays behind to sell the flowers in the marketplace to keep his family fed. But the marketplace has changed. Where once there was a sense of community and camaraderie, now there is fear and tension and bad tempers. Drasko has to figure out where to put his flowers and where to claim his place in this new version of his once familiar world. He finds a place on the square and stands under an open window where he can hear the sounds of an orchestra practicing inside.
Then, the unspeakable happens. As the church bells strike the hour of ten, a mortar comes streaking in to the marketplace and strikes the bakery where civilians are lined up to buy bread for their tables. Drasko watches as the musicians from the orchestra charge out of their hall and run toward the bakery. Everyone runs.
The story is beautifully illustrated with muted and gentle colors. The architecture of the marketplace has the old European flavor but the mission of the boy and his relationship with his father will feel immediate to young listeners and readers.
Then, the magic happens. On the day after the attack, at precisely ten o'clock, the door of the orchestra's rehearsal hall opens and out walks a man wearing a tuxedo as though ready to perform for thousands. He is carrying his cello and a chair.
So, this is what a hero looks like. This man who decides to play in the rubble of the bakery in honor of the 22 lives lost in the mortar fire. This man who chooses to stand up and bring the beauty of music into a world of violence and rage is telling the world that hope is not lost and every life will be valued and honored and remembered. Each day for 22 days he opens the door at ten o'clock, comes out into the square and performs. Then, he quietly returns to the rehearsal hall.
The story swells with the feelings of kindness, generosity, understanding, forgiveness, acceptance of differences, and most of all, with hope.
Based on the true story of Vedran Smailovic, a cellist in the Sarajevo Opera Orchestra. He became known to the world as, "The Cellist of Sarajevo." Wonderful backmatter is included with three maps of the Balkans, 1913, 1945 and 19915 after the Balkan wars. There is an author's note that describes the true events the story is based on as well as the words and music to a song, "Streets of Sarajevo," written and composed by John McCutcheon.
This would be a beautifully inspiring tool for creating discussion around the impact of war on families and communities, the importance of accepting those who do not practice our faith, and the potential for any one of us to be a hero. Cross -disciplinary potential is huge with the music and history connections.
978-1561459438 Ages 7-11
Recommended by: Barb Langridge, abookandahug.com
Editor's Note: A CD is included with the book.