The Mozart Question

Michael Mor­pur­go; Michael Fore­man, illus.
  • Review
By – February 13, 2012
How and when do you intro­duce the Holo­caust to a young child? Can you tell a sto­ry about the Holo­caust with­out ever men­tion­ing the word Jew”? This book, with its love­ly water­col­or pic­tures of Venice and sub­dued brown and gray paint­ings show­ing scenes in the camps, skill­ful­ly address­es these ques­tions. The sto­ry is told through Pao­lo, who is cur­rent­ly a famous vio­lin­ist. Pao­lo shares his sto­ry by means of flash­backs, which are revealed while a young jour­nal­ist is inter­view­ing him. He remem­bers how his father was the most renowned bar­ber in Venice. Each hair­cut was an inter­lude where his father “…would con­duct the music of his scis­sors with his comb.” Although Pao­lo knows his father had been a vio­lin­ist, his father nev­er plays the instru­ment and he will not answer his son’s ques­tions regard­ing it. Final­ly, the boy’s moth­er shows him the vio­lin that she has hid­den away on the con­di­tion that Pao­lo stop ask­ing his unremit­ting ques­tions. Sub­se­quent­ly, one sum­mer evening, Pao­lo hears the sound of a vio­lin and runs out­side in his paja­mas to lis­ten. The violinist’s name is Ben­jamin and Pao­lo sits at the old man’s feet as he enter­tains the audi­ence. They become friends and in the fol­low­ing weeks the child brings his father’s vio­lin to Ben­jamin, who not only repairs it, but secret­ly teach­es the boy how to play it. All the while, the rela­tion­ship and the vio­lin lessons are a secret — until Ben­jamin insists that Pao­lo reveals the nature of their rela­tion­ship to his par­ents. The child is very upset because he feels his par­ents will be angry with him. What hap­pens next is both an unex­pect­ed twist and a very sat­is­fy­ing and sur­prise end­ing. The author reveals each secret” a lit­tle at a time until all the puz­zle pieces are in place. The sto­ry is pow­er­ful but is pre­sent­ed in a way that will not fright­en a young child. Pao­lo, the main char­ac­ter, is par­tic­u­lar­ly well drawn, as is the back­ground infor­ma­tion about what it was like to sur­vive in the camps. Ages 9 – 12.
Marge Kaplan is a retired Eng­lish as a Sec­ond Lan­guage teacher. She is a con­sul­tant for the children’s lit­er­a­ture group for the Roseville, MN school sys­tem and is a sto­ry­teller of Jew­ish tales.

Discussion Questions