Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Before There Was Mozart: The Story of Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-George

Before There Was Mozart: The Story of Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-George

Lesa Cline-Ransome
Illustrator:  James E. Ransome 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 6 to 9
Random House, 2011   ISBN: 978-0375836008

It was Christmas morning on the island of Guadeloupe in the year 1739. Guillaume-Pierre Tavernier de Boullonge was waiting for Nanon, one of his slaves, to give birth to his son. The baby was called Joseph, and unlike the children of the other slaves, Joseph did not have to labor in the fields. Instead, he explored his father’s lands and he had lessons with Monsieur Plato, the plantation overseer. Each session concluded with a violin lesson.

When Joseph was nine, he traveled to France with his father and mother. His father was now a wealthy man, and he was eager to take his place in Paris society. When they got to Paris, Joseph moved into a large apartment with his father. Joseph’s father hoped that his son would be accepted by society and that people would “overlook his son’s skin color,” but this did not happen. Guillaume-Pierre was not allowed to pass his name on to his son, but he did manage to give him the lowest-ranking title that a nobleman could have, that of Chevalier, or knight.

Joseph was educated according to his rank, and excelled in riding, fencing, and playing the violin. Though many people considered him a “Half-caste,” Joseph was still welcome in many homes, where he attended balls and soirees. Then, when he was twenty-one, Joseph decided to dedicate his life to playing the violin. He was such a skilled musician, that even those who did not approve of him could not deny that he was truly gifted. In fact, he was so gifted that the most powerful man in the land wanted to see him perform.

Readers of all ages will be greatly moved by this story, which describes the life of one of the world’s great violinists. Beautifully written and with warm and powerful illustrations throughout, this is a picture book biography that brings the past to life.