Monday, January 23, 2017

Anna Maria's Gift

Anna Maria's Gift
by Janice Shefelman; illustrated by Robert Papp

An engaging book about a talented young violinist adjusting to a new life as an orphan after her father dies, overcoming her grief and learning how to forgive.
When Anna Maria's father dies, she moves to an orphanage in Venice. Though she misses her father, she knows he will always be with her, as long as she has his beautiful violin. Luckily, the orphanage is also a renowned music school, with a teacher who is none other than composer Antonio Vivaldi. But when her violin is stolen, Anna Maria must search Venice's bridges, streets, and canals. Will she ever find it—and can she ever be happy in Venice without it? This lyrical historical-fiction story captures Venice, the joy of music, and how kindness can make a scary new place feel like home.
I was surprised to learn that Anna Maria's story is based in history and the orphanage she was sent to actually existed. The Ospedale della Pietà was founded by a Franciscan priest as a place for children who had been abandoned as well as for orphans like Anna Maria, whose parents died from an unmentioned disease.

It is also true that composer (and priest) Antonio Vivaldi ran the music program for the Pietà. Originally the funds for the orphanage came from donations and public funding, but as the number of children grew the funds did not. In the 17th Century, someone had the idea to organize some of the more musically talented girls in the orphanage as a group of performers for the religious services. This was a brilliant idea, as wealthy Venetians began to attend these services in order to see these talented girls perform. Over the next two centuries, countless girls were given a top-notch musical education, and trained at least two composers: Anna Bon and Vincenta Da Ponte.

Anna Maria's Gift (Amazon/Library) gets the Self-Rescuing Princess Society seal of approval for showing a brave girl facing her troubles head-on. The crux of the story involves jealousy and bullying by another orphan at the Pietà, Paolina, but that is resolved by the end of the story as the adults try to foster a sense of understanding and mutual support between the two girls.

Anna Maria's Gift is a charming book perfect for young readers in the 8 to 10 year old range. It is organized into chapters with several line drawings highlighting the story, and includes a glossary in the back covering words that might be new to them. And it even has a brief historical note, which lead me to do my own research about Vivaldi and the Pietà.

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