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Happy 200th Birthday, Verdi!

verdi_cover-1024x791As the mom of a pianist, I can tell you that my daughter loved reading about famous composers from a young age. In middle school she wrote a research paper on Beethoven and another on James P. Johnson, a jazz musician. I remember picking up and getting hooked on the books she checked out of the library about these composers. But now that I have read Verdi for Kids: His Life and Music, with 21 Activities, ($16.95, Chicago Review Press, Ages 9 and Up) I realize just how much those other books were lacking.

Written by Helen Bauer, Verdi for Kids takes readers on a glorious journey through the life and times of Italian opera composer, Giuseppe Verdi, born in 1813. The well-written forward by renowned opera singer, Deborah Voigt will make you not only want to read the book, but also want to learn more about opera in general.

The publication of this title marks the 200th anniversary of Verdi’s birth. He was the shy son of an innkeeper, and by the age of seven his parents got him a well-used harpsichord.  Young Giuseppe took to the instrument so well that he mastered it quickly. Because his parents wanted to give their son the best education possible, both academically and musically, they sent him to live with a family friend in Busseto. He began to compose around the age of 13, had private music teachers and later attended the Milan Conservatory.

We learn of Verdi’s many hardships as an adult – the loss of his daughter, son and wife as illnesses plagued Italy. He worked through his grief by composing music and later traveled to Paris where he met and fell in love with a soprano named Giuseppina Strepponi. Verdi served on the first Italian Parliament and later becomes a senator, all the while still composing music.

There are wonderful activities with full instructions scattered throughout the pages of the book, such as making your own pasta, solving an opera word search, learning to read music, painting a poster to advertise an opera and even sketching a costume design for an opera. Kids will enjoy the many extraordinary old black and white photographs, drawings and offset boxes with detailed information about people and places.

This book is fascinating in that it not only details the life of a famous composer, but also gives insight into what life was like in Italy during the 1800s. I like the fact that the activities are well thought out and are both educational and fun. As with all other Chicago Review Press books, the author never talks down to the reader, rather she enlightens and inspires. Every member of the family will enjoy reading Verdi for Kids. It would make a great addition to your home library.

– Reviewed by Debbie Glade

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