Music may not make the world go around, but it does provide many people with a connection that cannot be broken. It is this type of strategy that Arn Chorn-Pond used to survive the violence of the Khmer Rouge. It is the many facets of music that Arn still uses to reconnect an entire culture of musicians to their heritage.
A Song for Cambodia tells Arn’s story as a child exposed to the ravages of living in Cambodia and a refugee camp during the Vietnam War. It is a story replete with images crafted by Shino Arihara that amplify Michelle Lord’s inviting text. To learn about Arn’s journey is to learn about the plight of the Cambodian people under the Pol Pot reigme. Fortunately, the story is not just Arn’s, but that of the triumph of the human spirit and the importance of music for sustaining the fight.
While young readers might not always be held captive by the story, they will certainly develop a sense of basic human rights that includes a great emphasis on the preservation of culture. A Song for Cambodia’s best use may be as part of a unit on human rights, or that of music around the world. Or perhaps it might be part of a biographical sketch on a current person who is making a difference in saving the music. General music teachers need to have this resource available along with the sounds of the khim and the khloy. Perhaps a website and a link from the publisher is in order?
It is important that children understand that music is more than just something encountered on an mp3 player. For Arn, music was literally his escape from a world that made little sense. It was more than a diversion; it was a connection to family, friends, and a culture that was violently changed by others. Music in all forms will continue to provide that possibility, but without the stories of the Arn Chorn-Pond the chances are diminished.
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