In "The Matchlock Gun," Walter D. Edmonds wrote: "I want to know about people, how they lived, what they hoped for, what they feared. I want to know what it was like to be born into this time or that, and what a man left behind when he died. . . . "
Edmonds was writing about biography, one of the least-chosen genres of literature by young readers. There is evidence that biographies have not really helped children "know about people." In fact, until recently juvenile biographies have often been insipid stories of cardboard figures walking across a page.There have been exceptions to the poor quality, and lately inroads into that vacancy have been made through writers like Jean Fritz and the late F. Monjo, who have told good stories - simple biographies - that laid a strong foundation for later reading.
Biographies are generally thought to be in three classes for young readers: those simple stories often with pictures that tell a part of the life, more complex narratives with adventure and values interlocked and those profiles that include complete personal rec-ords and encompass most events representing positive and negative qualities of the individual. If a child is introduced to biography at all three levels, it is hoped that the background knowledge brought to each new experience will enrich it and make it memorable.
Such would be the case when presenting Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in this 200th anniversary of his death. This can be a special introduction to biography at any level because it won't only be the man but some of the music that can be brought to homes and classrooms for appreciation and study.
WOLFERL: The First Six Years in the Life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. 1756-1762. Lisl Weil. 1991, Holiday House, $14.95.
Weil is well-known for her dramatic presentations of live-art that illustrates the music being played by orchestras throughout the world. In this book one can almost see the artist as she sketches life-size figures to accompany a Mozart concerto or a sonata. (In fact, "Wolferl" would be delightful read aloud with music as a background.)
In simple text, the story is told of a baby boy - the seventh child - being born in Austria to parents who had only one other daughter remaining. "God has let a miracle see the light in Salzburg . . ." wrote Leopold Mozart 13 years later. "And if it ever is to become my duty to convince the world of this miracle, the time is now, when people ridicule and deny all miracles. . . . "
The boy, christened Johannes Chrisosto-mus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart, was thought to be a miracle. His 41/2-year-old sister, Nannerl, was delighted with him and called him Wolferl. This book is about their relationship and the talents of the two children.
Weil has augmented the stories of Mozart's childhood performances, his boyish kiss to the empress Maria Theresa with details of food and clothing, all of which are accurately researched. It is a simple story, nothing more. It is meant to be read to small children but hopefully not separated from the music of what possibly was the greatest composer of all times. It can be an embellishment to the mastery of the symphonies, operas, dances and chamber music.
Since Weil didn't include additional reading lists, it will take some perusing of libraries to find companion pieces to look at Mozart's life more fully. One of my favorites is LETTERS TO HORSEFACE: WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART'S JOURNEY TO ITALY 1769-1770 by F.N. Monjo (Viking), which is an authentic, though fictionalized account of the journey the 14-year-old musician took with his father to Naples and back. The author has carefully constructed letters that young Mozart might have written his sister at home, revealing his excitement with music and the new experiences. The illustrators, Don Bolognese and Elaine Raphael, traveled to Italy before making the sketches. (Please note that this book, though out of print, can be located through interlibrary loan.)
Other books about Mozart:
MOZART. Christopher Galley. Creative Education, Inc.
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART. Carol Greene. Children's Press.
MOZART. L. Loewin. Rourke Corp.
MOZART: YOUNG MUSIC GENIUS. Francene Sabin. Illustrated by Yoshi Miyake. Troll.
MOZART. Percy Young. Illustrated by Janet Caulkins. Watt.
MOZART. Kenneth and Valerie McLeish. Heinemann Inc.
OPERANTICS WITH WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART. Mary Neidorf. Sunstone.