By Kevin Crossley-Holland and Jane Ray
Published by Orchard Books
ISBN 978 1 40833 606 9
This beautiful musical story takes place in Venice in the early 18th century. The action unfolds in and around the Ospedale della Pietà, a real orphanage and music school run by nuns in the middle of the city.
In the front door of the building, there was a wooden hatch through which young mothers who had just had a baby they could not care for pushed their offspring. Orphans who ended up at the Ospedale della Pietà were fortunate, considering the hopeless beginning they had to their lives.
The hospice looked after about 800 orphans, the majority of them girls. Throughout the building, in its rooms and courtyards, there was always music in the air. The orphans were taught how to play a musical instrument and to appreciate
what music can bring to a person’s life.
One of the music teachers at the Hospice was Antonio Vivaldi (1678 – 1741), the famous composer of The Four Seasons. Vivaldi not only taught music to orphan children at the hospice, but he set up a children’s orchestra that performed music in the palaces of high-society Venetian families.
Heartsong, based on the life of Vivaldi and the amazing work he did for orphans, will tug at your heartstrings from the first page until the last note.
Nine years ago, Laura arrived through the baby hatch at the Ospedale della Pietà like all the other orphans looked after by the nuns. But there was one difference between Laura and the others: the nuns soon discover cannot speak. Despite this, she can hear, and gradually the music filling the orphanage becomes a huge part of her life.
This voiceless young girl shows an exceptional talent for playing the flute and Vivaldi takes her under his wing. As her tuition progresses, Laura ventures beyond the walls of the orphanage to experience daily life in Venice. She becomes a key player in Vivaldi’s orchestra, working hard to perfect the music she makes with her beloved flute.
But as Laura leaves the safety of the orphanage behind her , secrets start to reveal themselves. The biggest mystery in Laura’s life is the story of how she came to the orphanage in the first place and why her mother had to give her up. Can the power of music lead Laura back to her mother and tell her who she really is?
As the book’s blurb puts it, some stories are too beautiful not to be told. Heartsong, a musical mix of words and illustration, is definitely one such story.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com