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Befiddled

Pedro de Alcantara
Publ. Delacorte Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House. November 2005, hbk, 192 pages, ISBN 0-385-73265-1. $15.95. Available from Amazon.
Review by Judith Kleinman
(first published in Statnews, February 2007)

Befiddled is Pedro de Alcantaraís new book and his first novel. It is aimed at the 8 to 14 year-old age group and is a gentle introduction to the Alexander Technique. Itís good to have another resource for that rather awkward stage of teenage years when people often begin to get disembodied. The story is based around music -so itís ideal for young musicians, but I think most young people would relate to the themes of the book. Sport, school and relationships all play their part as the story unfolds.

This is the compelling tale of Becky Cohen and it will make you laugh, cry and of course educate you at the same time. The story is in the great tradition of journey books from Mark Twain to Paulo Coelho: finding oneself through experience. It is the journey from fear to freedom with the help of good teachers. Becky goes from ugly duckling to swan, which might imply that it is a rather girlish book, but having a foil in her younger brother prevents that and I think both boys and girls will enjoy it.

Becky is the slightly beleaguered 13 year-old fiddle player from a poor family. She is a bit of an idiot at school, suffers from stage fright and is the butt of her violin teacherís jokes and sharp tongue. She is awkward and unhappy, and to cap it all there is a beautiful, talented rival.

Beckyís main mentor is Mr Freeman (Dickens would be proud) -a black handyman who is a talented musician and teacher. He believes in having a go, being brave enough not to worry about results all the time, and learning in a holistic way. Beckyís quest to win a scholarship to music school is also helped by her aforementioned younger brother Bengy. He provides a lot of the humour in the book and breaks up the text with his newspaper articles. Another teacher is a dog who supplies the example of free easy movement, a clever idea bound to appeal to kids -especially mine! The book comes to a very satisfying end. The story is delightfully full of imaginative ideas, encouraging young people to improvise, experiment, be themselves, and to let go of the habits that get in the way.

The book is beautifully presented in hardback, with no pictures except on the cover; however, it doesnít need them as the story is so vivid, and itís good to make our own images.

I will mention my initial concerns: of the depiction of rather stereotypical ethnic minorities (of course sensitive when one is my own!) and at times the slightly awkward relationships between adults and children. My reservations, however, all dropped away with the laughter, the fun and the moving moments of the story. Some people may feel there is a distinct lack of Alexander jargon; however I found this delightfully refreshing as nothing puts off the teens more than being too preachy. How good to have the Work introduced without all the ticking off we Alexander teachers are rather prone to.

Itís great to have the list of novels for youngsters increasing, as stories are such a powerful way to get messages across to everyone, especially children. Others on the list are Sue Merryís The Labyrinth of Gar, a fabulous adventure book for younger children, and Bridget Belgraveís lovely book Zak which also introduces the ideas of Nonviolent Communication. All have been tried and tested on my own kids and had their very testing thumbs-up.

Befiddled is another feather in Pedroís cap. His Indirect Procedures is an indispensable resource for the older musician and this book is a useful one for the younger ones.


© Judith Kleinman 2007

 

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