Upon first glance, I didn’t know how to classify this book. Its size – slim and square – is a bit unusual for a book aimed at the upper elementary set. While there are illustrations throughout, this is definitely no graphic novel. From the outside it kind of looks like a mini picture book with extra pages. I had similar trouble predicting the storyline. The cover makes some obvious Holocaust allusions, but the title and illustration underneath it had me perplexed. After reading “The Mozart Question”, however, it all makes sense – Morpurgo and Foreman have created a wonderful mix of characters, storyline, history, and illustration that stands out. The only mystery left for me is how many “best of the year” lists this book will grace.
The tale begins when a newspaper reporter falls into an interview with famous Venetian violinist Paolo Levi. The highly sought-after interview comes with a major stipulation: don’t ask the Mozart question. Through the course of the interview, not only do we discover the meaning of the question, but also the answer. Paolo really lays it all out. He tells an amazing life story, beginning with his early days of learning to play the violin in secret. It turns out that his teacher, a local street musician, shares a pretty big secret of his own with Paolo’s parents. A secret that comes out when Paolo is forced to tell his parents about his musical gift.
“The Mozart Question” delivers on a number of levels. The plot is clever and well-paced, never lingering too long or stalling out on the reader. The outstanding watercolor and pencil pictures provide clarity. The characters are well developed and real. Three for three adds up to a genuine winner around here. Not hard to categorize at all: a must-have middle grade selection.
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