Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Tchaikovsky Discovers America

Tchaikovsky Discovers America

Esther Kalman
Illustrator:  Laura Fernandez , Rick Jacobson 
Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Scholastic, 2000   ISBN: 978-0531071687

Eugenia, or Jenny for short, is having her birthday and she has been promised several treats. Her father has said that he will take the children in his family to Niagara Falls and Mama asks Jenny if she would like to be taken to Mr. Carnegie’s new Music Hall. Mr. Tchaikovsky, the great Russian composer, is going to be conducting some of his own music there.

So one afternoon Mama and Jenny go to the Music Hall to hear the matinee performance and Jenny is quite swept away by the music. For her the music and Tchaikovsky himself are very special because like the composer, Jenny’s parents were born in Russia. Like so many other wealthy Russian families, Jenny’s parents fled Russia when it looked as if their country was about to be torn apart by revolution.

When Jenny sets out on the train for Niagara with her family she discovers that one of her fellow passengers is none other than Mr. Tchaikovsky himself. In no time Jenny and Mr. Tchaikovsky are talking as if they have known one another for years.

Later, at Niagara Jenny sees Mr. Tchaikovsky again and she discovers that grown-ups, even famous grown-ups, can feel homesick. She sees that her father too thinks of Russia often and misses it.

Like so many children born of immigrant parents, Jenny comes to see that she is indeed American because she was born here, but she is also Russian. No matter what happens, Russia will always be in her blood.

Esther Kalman superbly blends together a story that celebrates the power that music can hold over people and also the story about homesick hearts and great dreams. Presented in diary form and with luscious oil paintings throughout, this is a very moving and powerful story based on the real trip that Tchaikovsky made to America in 1891.