My favourite book as a kid: Trubloff by John Burningham

This 1960s classic about a mouse who wants to learn the balalaika and tour central Europe seems entirely different to today’s rainbow picture books

The figures loom out of pitch black, heavy boots kicking up in thick smudges, hands roughly smeared above their heads as they dance to the music of the balalaika, which is only a suggestion on the page, scratched into the thick paint of John Burningham’s illustration. This 1964 picture book, about how a mouse called Trubloff comes to travel with Gypsies, listen to their music and learn to play the balalaika, is a well-known classic. But the heart of the story lies unspoken on the page: the fiery Gypsy music that inspires Trubloff to leave his family and that will eventually save them all.

Trubloff is one of a family of mice who live behind the panelling of the Parlour Bar, an inn in “part of a little village in central Europe where the winters were cold and snowy”. He comes to fall in love with the music played by the wandering Gypsies but when old Nabakoff, the craftsman mouse, makes him a balalaika of his own, Trubloff is disappointed to find that “playing the balalaika was not easy”. A kindly old Gypsy says he would have offered the young mouse lessons if they weren’t leaving that night – so Trubloff stows away and his travels across the frozen fields begin.

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