CM July 12, 
1996. Vol. II, Number 39

image The Fabulous Song.

Don Gillmor. Illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay.
Toronto: Stoddart, 1996. 32pp, boards, $17.95.
ISBN: 0-7737-2860-0.

Subject Headings:
Conductors (Music)-Fiction.
Family life-Fiction.

Kindergarten - grade 5 / Ages 5 - 10.
Review by Diane Fitzgerald.

*** /4


     When Sarah Pipkin's brother was born, they named him Frederic.
     "As in Frederic Chopin," Mr. Pipkin announced, "the great composer."
     "Chopin was a genius," Mrs. Pipkin often added.

     Whenever the Pipkins took Frederic for walks in his stroller, people always looked at him and said, "My what a beautiful baby."
     "And musical too," his mother would say.

illustration OF COURSE FREDERIC doesn't really seem to be musical at all.* And as he grows older, he suffers agonies as his parents try to fit him into the mould of the "musical Pipkins."

     His sister Sarah is a whiz on the piano; assorted other Pipkins play the flute, banjo, violin, drum, clarinet, rattle, and trumpet. Frederic, however, isn't good at any any of them, and he doesn't enjoy trying to get better:

     "I don't want to play the piano," he told his mother.
     "You'll be glad you took lessons when you grow up," she said.
     "Then I don't want to grow up," Frederic replied.

illustration     Frederic is also taken to learn the clarinet (he gets a headache), the oboe, the violin, saxophone, xylophone, and trombone. Also the trumpet, banjo, and cello. Finally, Mrs. Pipkin gives him a flute:

     He blew into it, but no sound came out at all. Frederic went upstairs and played with his dinosaurs.
     But when he goes to hear an orchestra, he sees the conductor make music out of the air, and Frederic is inspired at last; at a family gathering, excluded from the music makers, her grabs a spoon and begins to conduct the "fabulous song" of the title.

     One way or another almost everyone will be able to relate to this appealing story; those who children who do escape music lessons (or talent) are, like Frederic, excluded from one of life's great pleasures.

     Perhaps author Don Gilmour takes the easy way out of this story of over-rigid parental expectations by giving Frederic an unlikely talent for conducting. But ugly (or unmusical) duckling stories still work, and Gilmour makes some excellent dry comedy out of his straightforward language, as when Frederic's sister Sarah has a musical triumph: illustration

     After the concert, everyone congratulated Sarah on her piano playing.
     "You were wonderful," [her] mother said.
     "Really great," her father said.
     "You have a pimple on your nose," Frederic said. "Everyone was talking about it."

     Governor General's Award-winner Marie-Louise Gay's illustrations suit the comic, improvisational tone and theme of the story. She uses scribbly lines and loose washes of bright colour -- and streams of musical notation, grim and annoying or bright and loopy as fits the mood, that fly out of the double-spread pages like banners of sound.

*He's not that beautiful either.


Diane Fitzgerald is an elementary-school teacher in Saskatoon.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364