________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 1 . . . .September 2, 2005


Hannah Waters and the Daughter of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Barbara Nickel.
Toronto, ON: Penguin, 2005.
192 pp., pbk., $17.00
ISBN 0-14-305078-8.

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

**** /4

Reviewed from uncorrected and unpublished proofs.



"Is there someone out there," I whisper to Lumpi, "who isn't too scared to speak to her own papa?" Lumpi eyes me in the dark as if she thinks I'm a dimwit, too. "I don't mean silly boys like Wilhelm or Carl. Someone my age, a girl who can hear me, who understands..." She purrs as if she knows, and the stars wink and blink as if they, too, have an answer. I wrap my quilt up tight, and the music pulls me into that space just before sleeping where I see a girl, small in stature, but with a very large nose. We're singing Papa's music together.


Award-winning author Barbara Nickel weaves together historical fact, music appreciation and fiction in this delightful novel. Hannah Waters is a present-day girl who is dealing with many issues common to young teens. Her mother has recently died; she and her father have trouble communicating. Peers in her new school don't seem to like her, and they make her life miserable. And then there is her violin—which can be both her best friend and her worst enemy (as music students will understand!)

     Across time and space is Catharina Bach, daughter of famous musician Johann Sebastian Bach. Some of the difficulties in her life include younger brothers who are hard to manage, her many jobs around the house and her inability to speak up when needed, especially around her often stern and demanding father.

     The two girls never meet physically, but their lives are oddly entwined, and, at times, one is almost a mirror image of the other. They are linked by similar life events, their musical talents, the music for Bach's Concerto for two violins, and an actual violin. Nickel handles this exceptionally well, with many references to the Concerto where instruments 'talk' back and forth. Hannah and Catharina take turns winding in and out of each chapter, just as musical notes entwine to form a melody. As well as having a career in writing, Nickel is an accomplished violinist and teaches the instrument to children. Her love of the violin and of music is evident. Any young reader will enjoy this novel, partly for its historical interest and partly for the real-life situations in which the girls find themselves. Nickel presents them in a realistic, believable manner and skillfully makes the transition from the world of 1720 to the world of today, describing both with equal detail and colour. Students of music will particularly enjoy the book, as they will bring to it a better understanding both of the musical terminology and the emotions of the girls as they learn more about music and deal with the 'grind' of practicing and rehearsing as well as both the terror and exhilaration of performing.

     The novel provides many insights into the world of music and of Bach in particular, as well as introducing two extraordinary young girls. So have a CD of Bach's music in the background as you relax and enjoy a good read!

Highly Recommended.

Now living in Ottawa, ON, Ann Ketcheson is a former teacher of high school English and French as well as having experience as a secondary school teacher-librarian.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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