Mozart in the Future
written by Tânia Maria Rodrigues-Peters
illustrated by Pedro Caraça

Tânia Maria Rodrigues-Peters's Mozart in the Future
illustrated by Pedro Caraça

Children's book review by Steve Barancik

Ages 5-12

Young Mozart travels in time to make a needed friend

Imagine an overbearing mother, "her dearest wish...that [her son] turns into an internationally acclaimed musician."

A young child could wilt under such pressure. He might feel isolated, might even turn to an imaginary companion uniquely situated to understand what he's going through.

Young Max conjures just such a companion: young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Only young Mozart isn't imaginary. He comes to Max in the present day. And, truth be told, the young prodigy needs Max every bit as much as Max needs him. Mozart - some centuries prior - yearned to play games with his peers, but his overbearing father was having none of it.

An otherworldly angel - The Spirit of Music - recognizes that both boys need nothing more than a dose of each other, and so this time-traveling children's story kicks into gear.

Mozart in the Future

Master storyteller Tânia Maria Rodrigues-Peters conjures humor and adventure from this imagined meeting, bringing alive the legend of boy genius Mozart by setting him down - understandably off-balance - in the present day.

Television renders young Mozart speechless - just as rock music blasting from an MP3 player renders him appalled - but he quickly re-orients himself to the modern world. (This is, after all, the same child who traveled Europe playing for kings and queens, and Rodrigues-Peters captures the precociousness of his composure in the face of the unexpected.)

The joys of the story are many. There is wonderful humor throughout - shoved toward an elevator by Max, little Mozart states, quite calmly, "I am very sorry, but I shall not enter this box that eats people. There is no point insisting"- there is quality adventure, and there is a very real bond that develops between two boys from different eras.

When I refer to author Rodrigues-Peters as a master storyteller, I do so advisedly. She is just that, but the book often reads as if transcribed from audio rather than written per se. Plot and setting are clearly vivid in the storyteller's mind, but on the page the story reads as overwritten, often violating the writer's dictum of "Show, don't tell."

Characters state every thought - clearly and not very concisely - leaving little for the reader to surmise.

Astrid, give Max a little space! He has talent for music, he loves playing and he's disciplined, but he is also a kid and needs to enjoy himself a little, he needs to play with his friends. He can't just stay at home studying all the time! Leave him be! This age will never come again.

No! I must help him, direct him, so that one day he will be a great musician. Without discipline he'll never manage it. I will guide him towards fame.

My guess is that the author comes from an oral tradition (and indeed she has experience as an actress, teacher and radio presenter), and that is how the book works best. (Overwriting is practically a necessity when storytelling to an audience.) I recommend Mozart in the Future not as a book to be read silently to oneself but aloud, by an adult to a child (or children), a circumstance in which it will likely prove enthralling.

(Don't plan on reading it all at once. The book weighs in at about 100 pages, with delightful black and white illustrations by caricaturist Pedro Caraça every four pages or so. His depictions of little Mozart - complete with powdered white curls - are a hoot!)

The story's themes, too, lend themselves to out loud reading and constructive inter-generational discussion. Honesty is at issue, as are relationships between parents and children.

Set in Austria, translated from Portuguese, with Mozart in the Future Tânia Maria Rodrigues-Peters tells a touching and timeless story marred only by her tendency toward the expositional, as well as overwrought depictions of young Wolfgang's piano playing, (which seems always to bring everyone within earshot to tears).

A dramatic reading by an engaged adult will push such concerns easily aside. Embrace your inner thespian and share Mozart in the Future with a child in your present.

Read more of Steve's reviews.

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