Little Leap Forward by Guo Yue & Clare Farrow

Little Leap Forward by Guo Yue & Clare Farrow

Here’s a musical story  which doesn’t actually feature a harmonica! It was written by someone who plays a Chinese relative of the harmonica called a Bawu.

The Bawu looks just like a traditional Chinese flute, the Di-Zi. It is made from a long piece of hollowed bamboo, it has finger holes and just like the Di-Zi, you blow the Bawu to make it sing.

So how on earth could the Bawu be related to the harmonica, how is it different to the Di-Zi and what is the story of Little Leap Forward?

Come with us on a magical journey to China and all will be revealed..

With music…you will always be free.

Little Leap Forward is the true story of Guo Yue who grew up in China during the 1960’s and 1970’s.

The title of the book, and the main character, is an English translation of Guo Yue’s Chinese name.

Little Leap Forward lost his father when he was five years old. He grew up with his mother and sisters and hoped to become a musician, just as his father had been. His best friends were a boy called Little Little and a girl called Blue.

Little Leap Forward remembers his father practising the Chinese Violin. ‘Just remember,’ he once said to me, as he made a red boiled sweet appear as if by magic out of the red silk velvet lining of his violin case, ‘with music and your imagination you can travel anywhere; you will always be free.’

As cunning as a spider weaving its web

Little Leap Forward and Little Little catch a small bird; they name it Little Cloud.

In a country where simple things are not allowed – like brightly coloured hairbands and freedom of speech (Little Leap Forward’s mother is tortured for her beliefs) – the caged bird mirrors Little Leap Forward’s feelings of imprisonment in his own country.

Learn about the freedom Little Leap Forward and his friends find in music, flying kites and splashing about in the river. What do you think happens to the caged bird, Little Cloud? What do you think happens to Little Leap Forward? Does his musical dream come true?

Little Leap Forward is published by Barefoot Books (ISBN 978-1-84686-113-0) and can be ordered through The fabulous illustrations are by Helen Cann. You can find out more about Guo Yue at his website.

The Bawu

The secret of the Bawu, is the single, pointed metal reed, which sits inside its mouthpiece. You can just make out the reed in this picture.

The mouthpiece is the slotted white section. The reed is the golden, metallic part inside the slot.

Unlike flautists, instead of blowing across the mouthpiece with pursed lips, Bawu players press their lips against the mouthpiece and breath into the slot. This vibrates the reed, giving the Bawu its unique voice.

The harmonica relies on a number of flat-ended, metal reeds for its sound. So, although it looks like a wooden flute, the Bawu is a cousin of the harmonica and also belongs to the ‘free reed’ instrument family.

Watch Guo Yue’s story and hear the sound of the Bawu.Now enjoy the story as it is enacted with puppets, masks and costume.

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