In 18th-century Salzburg, Austria, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Woferl) lives with his parents, older sister Maria Anna (Nannerl), and their family manservant Sebastian in respectable but slightly shabby quarters while their father Leopold serves as musician in residence to the Archbishop. To supplement the barely adequate family income, the children’s father instructs first his daughter and then both his children on the clavier, grooming them to perform publicly in venues across Europe. Although Nannerl is five years older than her brother and an excellent musician in her own right, her gender limits her prospects as she moves toward adulthood, since women are expected at the age of eighteen to be introduced to society and quickly married off. Because of this, their father’s intensive training dominates their lives but focuses the most on Woferl, since he believes the public is more likely to attend performances by the young Mozart children together than a performance by Nannerl alone.
Nannerl is a dutiful daughter and loves her brother fiercely. However, she wants to be recognized by her father for her own musical talents. She also wants to compose music and be given credit for it, but such is forbidden for women at the time. One night, after wishing yet again that she could be remembered for her own talents, she “dreams” of a mysterious boy on a beach near an ocean who promises her that he can make her wish come true if she will help him. As days pass–at home as well as on tours around Europe–both Nannerl and Woferl are revisited on multiple occasions by the mysterious boy (Hyacinth), who introduces them to the fantastical Kingdom of Back. As they are both drawn into Hyacinth’s world, they are presented with situations and challenges that become darker and darker.
This marvelous tale presents world-building at its best, combining real-life Austria and Europe with a fairy-tale kingdom that requires action between the two in order for both worlds to prosper for those rightfully assigned to them. Nannerl’s conflict between wanting what she desires with all her heart and her love for her brother and family forces her to choose between the two, a difficult choice that still confronts women today.
As in all fairy tales, violence presents itself in the form of threats and battles between mythical people and creatures. It is an exceptional cautionary tale about the allures of evil, the ability to recognize it, and the necessary strength required to combat it.
This book (which is loosely based in fact on stories that the Mozart children made up and shared with each other on their coach travels between performances) should be added to all library collections.
Categories: Books We Recommend, Books with No Objectionable Content, Bullying, Civil Rights, Differently Abled, Diversity, Dysfunctional Relationships, Fantasy, Grief, Mysteries, Parent Conflict, Supernatural/Occult