Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Hannah Waters and the Daughter of Johann Sebastian Bach

Hannah Waters and the Daughter of Johann Sebastian Bach

Barbara Nickel
Historical Fiction
For ages 11 and up
Penguin Canada, 2005   ISBN: 0143050788

Catharina is the eldest child of Johann Sebastian Bach, the well known composer and musician. Her Papa works as Prince Leopold’s official Capellmeister, and he is often very busy creating music, rehearsing, and performing. Papa takes pride in his sons, praising their musical abilities and spending time with them. However, poor Catharina rarely attracts her father’s smiles, instead he criticizes her and makes her feel afraid of him. Catharina loves her Papa’s music and his melodies delight her ear and her heart, but she can never share this love with him. She wishes so much to hear her Papa’s new piece, the concerto for two violins. Instead Hannah keeps her voice and her dreams hidden.

Now we move to many years into the future. Hannah Waters and her father have recently moved to a small town in Saskatchewan. After the death of Hannah’s mother, her father needed a fresh start in a new place. Poor Hannah not only feels lonely at school, but she also feels alone at home because her father won’t open up to her. Desperately Hannah struggles to play Brahms’ concerto for two violins, a piece her violin playing mother loved. Perhaps if she masters this piece of music everything will be all right again.

What happens next is bizarre, and yet at the same time it is also comforting. Hannah starts to see the sad face of a girl from long ago, and Catharina Bach sees the face of an unhappy girl who lives in the future and who plays the violin. Somehow, the two girls are connected by the concerto for two violins, by their love of music, and by their grief.

This compelling book beautifully marries fact, fiction, and a touch of magic. Readers will shift between Catharina’s world and Hannah’s, seeing parallels in the lives of the two girls. Throughout the story, the power of music flows strongly, reminding readers that music is truly a universal and timeless gift that unites all kinds of people.