What is The Red Piano about?

This stirring and beautiful picture book relates the moving and inspiring story of a gifted young girl’s passion for the piano in a time of historic turmoil. During China’s Cultural Revolution (1966 - 1976), a young girl is taken from her family and sent to a far-off labour camp. Forbidden to play the piano, she nevertheless finds a way of smuggling hand-written music into the camp and sneaking away at night to practice a piano in a secret location.

Then, one night, she is caught ...

Inspired by the amazing true story of international concert pianist Zhu Xiao-Mei, Andre Leblanc and Barroux’s acclaimed picture book from France poetically relates an extraordinary story of perseverance set against a cataclystic period of history which is, to this day, still shrouded in mystery.

Watch Zhu Xiao-Mei inspiring performance here... how does the music makes you feel? How does it affect your reading of the story if you listen to the music at the same time?

Questions and suggested activities ...

  • Zhy Xiao-Mei creates music as a way to combat and fight war and destruction - how can you create art to do the same?
  • How would you feel if you were prevented from doing the thing you loved the most?
  • What can you find out about Zhy Xiao-Mei on the internet or in your library?
  • What does social peace mean within this story?
  • What does this story say about freedom?
  • By using the words ‘blighted’ and ‘eerie’ how is the narrator trying to make the reader feel?
  • How does the style of illustration add to this feeling? Comment on the use of colour the expressions on the characters' faces.
  • Is this a period of history you know about already?
  • If you don't - does this say something about how important it is to create art or tell stories as a way to learn from conflicts in the past?
  • What artwork could you create in response to the story so the message is not lost?
  • Why not create a book trailer in response to the book highlighting how you feel it explores ideas of peace?

Teachers' Notes for The Red Piano