CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 10. . . . January, 2003
Suddenly the orchestra began to play. The violins swelled in a sad melody, like unhappy tears dropping on the marble floor.
Thomas quickly slipped through the guests to the stage. All heads in the room turned to look at him. He shut his eyes against them and let the music fill his ears and his soul. The hunger and exhaustion of begging every day seemed to slip away.
He began to sing. The chattering of the guests stopped as the sound caught at their hearts.
This gorgeous picture book is the latest "Classical Kids" fictitious story surrounding the life of a famous composer. Handel pays some London street boys a few pennies for carrying his harpsichord and learns that one of them, Thomas, sings like an angel but has somehow lost the ability to speak. Handel later chances to hear this wondrous voice performing his own music, and, when Thomas goes missing, Handel is moved to help the boys find him. He then presents them, and all of London's orphans, with a fabulous musical gift. His generosity has the added benefit of unlocking Thomas's voice from its silent prison.
Author Cowling uses elegant, poetic language to recreate eighteenth century London. By alternating the story's perspective between the street beggars and Handel, he effectively contrasts the bleak reality of the poor with the excessive wealth of the nobility. He builds excitement as the boys race to find Thomas before the Keeper, a nasty Fagin character borrowed from Oliver Twist, discovers he's missing. While the events move quickly, time seems to behave oddly with night coming and going unobserved; and, if the ending is a little too pat, with Thomas suddenly finding his voice, it's so sweetly heartfelt that Cowling can be forgiven.
The strength of this book is in the full-page paintings. Illustrator Walker, in this, his first picture book, is particularly adept at facial expressions, and many of the faces have a luminous quality that shine with an inner radiance. He uses the interplay of light and shade to effectively convey Cowling's contrasts in social classes. For example, in the first picture, where the young beggars watch the King's barge approach the dock, they are cast in shadow while the royal barge is bathed in a golden glow.
Music is central to this story, and, while the gloriousness of Handel's music is communicated both verbally and visually, children would benefit by experiencing it aurally, as they do in the CD of the same name. Ideally, a child would experience both the book and the CD together to get the full range of artistic expression.
Alison Mews is the Director of the Curriculum Materials Centre, Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, NF.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.