Morpurgo, Michael. 2008. The Mozart Question. Ill. by Michael Foreman. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick.
This book, by British Children's Laureate (2003-2005), Michael Morpurgo, was first published in London in 2006. The Mozart Question is a small, short work of fiction that will leave a large and long-lasting impression on the reader.
Paolo Levi is a young boy in Venice. His parents are kind, working-class people; his father is a barber. The family lives in an apartment over the barbershop, where, hidden in a bedroom, is a broken violin. Paolo learns that his father used to play it, and he longs to hear him play; but there is a mystery. Mama tells Paolo that he must never mention the violin. He must not mention it to his father. He must pretend that it does not exist.
But Paolo is drawn by the mysterious violin and by the music of a street musician who plays near the bridge. Paolo becomes friends with Benjamin, the elderly musician. Paolo secrets the violin away from his apartment and Benjamin repairs it; then teaches him to play.
Paolo Levi becomes a famous musician, renowned as much for his musicianship as for his peculiar concert habits - no applause, no recordings, and no Mozart - ever.
Fast forward to today... a young reporter lands a plum assignment - an interview with the famously reticent, Paolo Levi. But the assignment comes with a warning - Don't ask the Mozart question. Young reporter, Lesley, does not ask the Mozart question, yet in a reflective mood, Paolo answers it; and in so doing, he draws the reader into the story of his parents, the Holocaust, and Mozart's role in their survival.
Morpurgo succeeds in conveying the horror of the Holocaust with the simple affecting tale of one family's survival. Both haunting and uplifting, The Mozart Question illustrates the power of music and love, and the indomitable nature of the human spirit. The watercolor illustrations of Michael Foreman are a beautiful addition to the story, muted colors and expressionless faces of Nazis in the concentration camps, contrasted with the beautiful scenery of modern Venice.
More a mystery than a Holocaust novel, this short (less than 70 pages) book is a perfect read-aloud or introduction to the Holocaust. For 5th grade and up.