Tunes for Bears to Dance To

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Tunes for Bears to Dance To
Author(s)Robert Cormier
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Genre(s)young adult fiction
PublisherLaurel Leaf
Publication date1992
Pages112
ISBN0-440-21903-5
OCLC Number30395632
 
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Tunes for Bears to Dance To
Author(s)Robert Cormier
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Genre(s)young adult fiction
PublisherLaurel Leaf
Publication date1992
Pages112
ISBN0-440-21903-5
OCLC Number30395632

Tunes for Bears to Dance To is a young adult novel written by American author Robert Cormier that discusses themes of morality from the perspective of an 11-year-old named Henry. This novel also has many metaphors and ties to the Holocaust. This book is very loyal to Robert Cormier's style as it is very short and haunting. It is also in his vein of younger boys discovering darker sides of life and it is left unclear whether the protagonist did the right thing or not. The title originates from a line in Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary: “Language is a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity.”

Plot summary

Henry’s family moves to a new town to run away from the memories of their recently passed son, Eddie, who was hit by a car in which the driver instantly drove away, never to be seen again. Henry’s father is traumatized by Eddie's death and becomes very quiet and no longer works, while Henry's mother works long hours in order to support their family. Another problem Henry faces is that there is no stone to mark Eddie's grave. Henry also contributes to his family by working at a grocery store for a man named Mr. Hairston, a deceptive old man who makes rude comments about the townsfolk that would walk by his store. He is a perfectionist, which is why he insults many people, including his wife and daughter. He appears to have a special liking to Henry.

Every day, Henry watches a curious old man leave the 'crazy house' near his apartment and disappear down the street. Henry follows him one day to an art center, where he meets him in person and learns his name is Mr. Levine and he is a holocaust survivor who lost his family to the SS. He goes to the art center every day to carve out a model of his old hometown town.

One day, Henry tells Mr. Hairston about Mr. Levine, who becomes strangely interested. Later, Henry asks Mr. Hairston if he can somehow find him a good gravestone to put over Eddie's grave, which he, surprisingly, agrees to buy for him. However, Mr. Hairston one day tells Henry that he'll be fired at the end of the week for no reason. Further into the week, Mr. Hairston tells Henry that he'll let him keep the job and the sculpture at one condition: destroy Mr. Levine's model village. He also said he had close relationships with Henry's principal and his mother's boss and threatens to have his mother fired and his school reputation collapse if he was not to do what Mr. Hairston wants. The reward, if Henry was to destroy the replica village would be: raise his mom's pay, let him keep his job, and give him the grave sculpture. Not knowing what he should do, he stays at the art center overnight just in case and was about to destroy the village with a mallet. Henry decides not to smash it, but a rat startles him and he drops the tool on the village, destroying part of it. On his way home, Mr. Hairston waits for him somewhere on the street and explains why he wanted the village destroyed: "Because he's a Jew" and to torment Henry by taking away his title of 'good boy'. Henry then says that he does not want the rewards Mr. Hairston offers.

A few weeks afterwards, Henry and his family move back to the town they lived in previously.

Theme

This book is different than most young adult books in that all of Henry’s friendships are with adults. The book deals with a boy learning about trusting people in the real world, struggling with finding himself and surviving in a cruel, diverse world. The book also deals with overcoming struggles and racism and temptation.

References

Book: Tunes For Bears To Dance To by Robert Cormier