Heartsong ISBN: 9781408336069
Published by Orchard Books, 2015
Set in Venice in the 18th Century and organised around the life of Antonio Vivaldi and his work at the Ospedale della Pieta, this story has a beauty in both text and illustration that is rarely found. Laura, sent to the Ospedale (an orphanage and music training school) as a baby, has been brought up in the country for her first 8 years, and it is only when she arrives back in Venice to become a permanent member of the institution that she meets Vivaldi. He is a music teacher and one of the world's greatest composers, and it is he who spots Laura's musical talent. Whilst she cannot speak, she can sing through her flute, and she is soon playing in his orchestra and enjoying the special treatment that all musicians have in the Ospedale. She has a room of her own where she can practice in peace, and sometimes the great composer takes her out into the Venetian world, which is exciting and frightening in equal measure. He buys her her own flute, and her talent is remarkable. She never forgets that somewhere he mother might be thinking of her as she thinks of her mother, and there is a song in her heart that come from she knows not where. The Ospedale is much like our own Foundling Hospital in London in the 18th Century, and the detail we learn about it and about the orphans housed there, the tokens left by their mothers to identify them should they be able to return to collect their babies, and the care given to the children by the nuns is all extremely evocative and beautifully told. Crossley-Holland is one our foremost children's authors, and his poetic and beautifully balanced text has found its equal in Ray's remarkable, jewel-like illustrations. They glow with something of a medieval book of hours but with a modern look that is quite, quite perfect. There is a happy ending, and Laura's muteness turns out to have been temporary, even though it lasted a very long time. The book is organised around Vivaldi's Four Seasons, and this becomes a setting vivid in its beauty and vitality. A superb production and one not to be missed.