A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that despite the title, The True Adventures of Nicolo Zen is historical fiction. But kids will learn a lot about music and cultural history in 1700s Venice and Vienna. There's little sexual content, mostly mild kissing, although one kiss with tongue gets detailed attention. Hero Nicolo and the girl he eventually marries have premarital sex, but it's not described. There's little gore or violence, but there are some gruesome descriptions of dead bodies. Occasional strong language includes "hell," "bitch," and "whore."
What's the story?
THE TRUE ADVENTURES OF NICOLO ZEN tells the story of a 15-year-old hero orphaned after an outbreak of malaria kills his entire family. Armed only with a clarinet and an uncanny knack for playing it, Nicolo makes his way to Venice and is quickly named soloist in the great master Vivaldi's orchestra. If only he hadn't had to disguise himself as a girl to get there. When the truth's discovered, Nicolo has to leave Venice and everything he knows behind. Fortunately, a mysterious magician benefactor sets him on the path to fame and riches, but will it last if he can't rely on the magical clarinet anymore?
Is it any good?
Nicholas Christopher, poet and author of several adult novels, makes his YA debut with this story that's well structured and evenly paced -- almost to a fault. The rich historical detail and engaging hero add some spice to the mix, though. Also, getting off the roller-coaster ride that dominates so much of YA literature to enjoy a story at a Four Seasons pace can be a refreshing change. History-loving kids will enjoy rooting for Nicolo and exploring the vivid world of European music in Vivaldi's time.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why historical fiction is so popular. Why are the lives of people in other periods interesting to us?
Have you heard any music by Vivaldi? If you haven't, what do you imagine it sounds like? Check out some of his more famous works online or at the library. How do they compare to what you imagined?
Why do you think the story includes the magician character Massimo Magnifico? Do you think the "historical" story gets less believable after he appears?
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