By Martin J. Kidston
It seems that Barbar the elephant and Bambi the big-eyed doe have a lot more in common than their forest ancestry they both lost their mothers to the blast of a rifle and went forth into an uncertain world. But the spirit of learning is extended from Bambi and Barbar to those big-eyed kids who read their story, fascinated and inspired.
The Havre Hill County Librarys summer reading program came to an official end this week after dishing out books in droves to kids who were anxious to read them. And as the reading program closed like the cover of a book, the celebration for a job well done unfolded like the adventures of Huck Finn.
In the Methodist Church, Havre native-turned San Francisco resident Melissa Smith, along with husband David Saslav, prepared the stage and readied the props to give the kids of the summer reading program a big pat on the back for a job well done.
Smith, a University of Montana graduate, earns a living as an accomplished pianist while her husband works as a computer professional. Saslav has a history singing Tenor in the opera, and by combining their musical talents, the couple presented the story of Barbar, the motherless pachyderm in Havre on Thursday.
The story of Barbar is about a little elephant living in the forest, Smith explained. His mother is killed by a cruel hunter, and Barbar runs away to meet a rich lady who gives him what he wants and teaches him to be sophisticated.
Eventually, Smith said, Barbar learns to drive a car, gets married and becomes king of the elephants. The story, seemingly simple, is actually quite complex, Smith said. Written in 1931 by French writer Jean De Brunhoff, the story became instantly popular upon publication.
Consequently, French composer Francis Poulenc, inspired by his six year-old niece, composed a musical score to match the story.
Its a sophisticated score, Smith said, and very depictive. Each piece matches the pictures in the book.
Both Smith and Saslav enjoy the story and the show that accompanies it.
Weve done it for theater festivals, Smith said. Its the 100th anniversary of Francis Poulenc, and theres a lot of celebration in San Francisco right now.
I like the reaction of the kids, Saslav said. They relate well to the story.
It was one of my favorite books growing up, Smith added.
The Havre Hill County Librarys summer reading program was a success, said Library Director Bonnie Williamson as she watched the Barbar set go up. She said 332 kids registered for the program, and 129 of them achieved their reading goal. All together, the kids read 6,793 books.
Kyra Kaercher was the top reader in the fifth grade and up category, while Heather Kohlman took top honors for the fourth grade level. Dallas Wilson and Justin Carlson combined for 102 books wining the third grade and under category.