Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Music for the end of time

Music for the end of time

Jen Bryant
Illustrator:  Beth Peck 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 8 to 10
Eerdmans, 2005   ISBN: 978-0802852298

The world is at war, World War II is raging in many countries, and Olivier Messiaen is a prisoner of war. He and a group of other prisoners are taken to a camp called Stalag 8A. When they arrive the prisoners who have been at the camp for a while ask Olivier if he has some food in his bag but all he has with him are his sheets of music. Olivier is a musician and a composer. He has carried his favourite tunes with him since the war began. The music “gives me hope” he tells the other prisoners. Some of the men understand, and some don’t.

For some unknown reason one of the German officers lets Olivier use a little out of the way room for a few hours each day “to work” on his music. It is as if the man understands how important Olivier’s music is to him and he wants to give Olivier the chance to create something beautiful in this dreadful place.

At first Olivier does not know what to write, but then he remembers the song of a nightingale which he heard singing on the other side of the fence. The memory of that song is all the inspiration Olivier needs and he begins to write his music. When musicians arrive at the camp Olivier begins to develop a plan and for many months he works on his music.

Then at last the day arrives when he is ready for the world to hear what he has been working on for so long.

This incredibly moving picture book biography tells the true story of Olivier Messiaen, the French composer who was captured by the Germans during World War II and taken to a prisoner of war camp in Poland. Beautifully written in a gentle and lyrical style, this is a story which will touch the hearts of its readers and which will remind one how much music can sustain the spirit when so much else is in a state of chaos. An excellent author’s note at the back of the book provides readers with further information about Massiaen’s life.