Saturday, July 16, 2011

Second Fiddle

Second FiddleSecond Fiddle by Rosanne Parry. Random House, 2011

As a veteran of the "I can't hear you practicing" skirmishes,  I am heartened by stories of young people, devoting themselves to music (and practice) which this lovely book cover promises.  Band, orchestra and choir programs play a huge role in many teens' lives.  One of my students used to credit Virginia Euwer Wolff's The Mozart Season for inspiring her to All State success.
Parry begins her book with this cracking opening line: 
"If we had know it would eventually involve the KGB, the French National Police, and the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, we would have left that body in the river and called the Polizei like any normal German citizen; but we were Americans and addicted to solving other people's problems, so naturally, we got involved." 
This is a very cleverly imagined mystery, set in the distant past of 1990, in Berlin, not long after the Berlin Wall came down. Also, as promised, there is music.

Three girls have become friends by playing together in a string trio. Their music has linked them in friendship even though they come from different social worlds.  Giselle's father is the commanding general of the American Forces in Berlin and Vivian's mother is the U. S. consul general to West Berlin.  Jody's family lives in enlisted soldiers' quarters. Musically, Jody also plays second violin in the trio. As political change takes hold  in Germany, many American diplomatic and military families are preparing to leave Berlin. These girls will probably not see each other again.

Their apprehension worsens when they learn their music teacher will not be able to take them to a music competition in Paris,  This is a blow after all their practice and preparation. On their way home from their last lesson, they decide to cross into the East Berlin to console themselves with some gelato.  The ease of their crossing is still somewhat unnerving as this used to be enemy territory.  While there, they witness a terrible crime against a Soviet soldier and despite years of Cold War distrust, the three resolve to help him.  As they plan, Jody sees a way to help the soldier and also get to Paris so they can perform together, one last time.

Parry conveys a sense of what it is like to be part of a military family living overseas.  Despite frequent moves and her father's long work hours, Jody's family enjoys a sweet closeness. The author also captures the time and place perfectly.  One side of the Brandenburg Gate is prosperous and booming, the other side is poor and grim.   Parry inserts lovely detail such as the mouth-watering aroma from a Parisian crepe cart and the quiet interior of a church which puts the reader there, on the streets of Berlin and Paris. Her descriptions are so spot on, we can follow the action with a city map.

A useful and interesting author's note gives additional background on the division of Germany in 1945, the fall of the Berlin Wall and Eastern Europe's struggle to be free from the Soviet Union.

From Pachebel's Canon to Paris street musicians to Cold War intrigue, this book is a virtual vacation. I truly enjoyed the ride.  

Roseanne Parry Website

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Harry Potter

Waves of Harry Potter nostalgia are washing over me this weekend. This lovely article "How J. K. Rowling and Harry Potter Saved Reading" By Norman Lebrecht in the Wall Street Journal today tributes the school library for introducing the book to his family.
My family experience traces the phenomenon to the school library. Our youngest daughter brought home a copy around year four, when she was 9. Her elder sisters commandeered it and insisted that the parents read as well. What Ms. Rowling achieved—long before Warner Bros. adapted her work into films, the last of which will be released next week—was a children-led read-in that crossed all age barriers, uniting families in a primal fireside act of sharing an unfolding story, page by page.
I remember that summer when I started reading Sorceror's Stone with entling no. 3. After two afternoons of reading aloud, together, she took the book upstairs and finished it on her own and pronounced it a grand read. I credit JK Rowling with her reading fluency to this day.

I was very fortunate at the start of my school librarian career. My first year as a school librarian saw the stampede for books about the Titanic, thanks to the movie. At that point we only had Exploring the Titanic by Robert D. Ballard and a picture book biography about Molly Brown, Heroine of the Titanic by Elaine Landau.  Publishers soon got up to speed. (I remember the almost mele at the Little Brown booth for Inside the Titanic.)

Then there was Harry, wonderful Harry. I met a former student, not long ago, who recalled that I handed him a copy of the first book and he became a reader from that day forward. Rowling's books made every librarian look good as children clamored for the books.

As I look forward to the final film chapter of Harry's story on Friday I am reminded of how exciting it was to anticipate the very first movie along with my students. Seeing photo stills of Hogwarts with the floating candles in the great hall was thrilling. As the end of his film journey is at hand, I am cheered to see the books still being checked out by a new generation of readers in school libraries today. I am so happy the my family and I were there for the first grand ride.