A Concert in the Sand is based on the true story of the first performance in Tel Aviv in 1936 of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, now known as the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. A simple historical note at the back of the book provides the extraordinary backstory: Bronislaw Huberman, a brilliant violinist and Polish Jew, conducted orchestral auditions across Europe at a time when the future for Jews looked increasingly bleak. He selected 70 Jewish musicians to travel with him to Israel where they founded the new orchestra.
Authors Tami Shem-Tov and Rachella Sandbank cleverly bring this non-fiction story to life for younger readers through a pair of fictional characters: a young boy Uri, the narrator, and his grandmother. Uri is bored at his parents’ shop, so Grandma takes him for a walk to the beach in Tel Aviv, but that’s just the start of their journey across the city to an unknown destination. As they set out, Uri notices two men carrying ‘funny-shaped cases’ passing by. In fact, at various points in the city, he sees people with strange cases joining the two men. Mystery surrounds what these individuals are doing and where they are going, and Uri has no idea where Grandma is taking him either. Illustrator Avi Ofer doesn’t provide any hints in his wonderfully busy pen and ink spreads. The funny-shaped cases are never shown in full and there is an air of secrecy, even conspiracy, among the unknown characters, especially in the opening pages.
The auditorium is, of course, the destination where the musical instruments are finally revealed and identified. Uri may not have known what the funny-shaped cases were, but he certainly has a good knowledge of their contents! It also turns out that Grandma is personally acquainted with the orchestra’s founder Bronislaw Huberman, which provides readers with a personal introduction to a great musician and important figure from contemporary history. The story concludes with Uri, Grandma and a whole crowd of concert goers sharing in the emotion and celebration of a very special orchestral performance:
‘The notes enter my ears, and go straight to my heart,’ says Uri. ‘I didn’t know that music could create such a feeling.’
Mystery, bright, bustling illustrations and the world of orchestral instruments and performance combine in this engaging, accessible tale that will appeal to even the youngest of readers. A Concert in the Sand is also an invitation to not-so-young readers to explore the backstory revealed in the book’s historical note. I discovered on further reading that Huberman not only rescued 70 talented musicians from 1930s Europe to found his new orchestra in Israel; he rescued more than 900 of their family members too. That is definitely a story worth knowing and sharing, too.
A Concert in the Sand by Tami Shem-Tov and Rachella Sandbank, illustrated by Avi Ofer, translated from the Hebrew (Kar-Ben Publishing, 2017)
Tami Shem-Tov teaches creative writing at the University of Haifa in Israel. She is a multi-award-winning children’s/YA author whose published works include the novels Letters from Nowhere and I’m Not a Thief.
Rachella Sandbank is the Children’s and Young Adult books editor at Keter Brooks, one of Israel’s leading publishing houses.
Avi Ofer is an illustrator and animation director who has created works for a variety of media, including book and editorial illustration and animated films. His art has been exhibited and his films have been screened in festivals around the world. He is based in Barcelona, Spain.