Tchaikovsky Discovers America
Kelly L. Green is the co-editor of the Children’s Literature edition
of the Canadian Book Review Annual.
This rendition of Tchaikovsky Discovers America is only loosely based on
the award-winning audio version from Classical Kids. In this story, the
central character is 11-year-old Jenny Petroff, the child of wealthy
Count Petroff, who was penniless in Russia but has made money in
railroads, enabling his family to live a life of luxury in America.
Jenny’s birthday present is a trip to Carnegie Hall to see Tchaikovsky
conduct. Tchaikovsky’s music is special to their family, as Jenny is
named for his opera Eugene Onegin. The rest of the book follows
Jenny’s real-life relationship with the composer.
Written in first-person narrative in diary form, the story is told from
Jenny’s perspective. While competently written, the story lacks the
excitement and giddiness of the audio version. (Why are we not told what
Jenny hears at the concert? Why is Tchaikovsky’s brilliant description
of The Nutcracker left out of this version?) Without the music,
Jenny’s life takes centre stage, and we have more time to contemplate
the fact that, in stark contrast to most children in social-Darwinist
America, she lives in a protected enclave of wealth. Children reading
this book may form the impression that Jenny’s life was the norm in
1890s New York. In addition, Tchaikovsky “gently” destroys Jenny’s
dream that she might someday dance in Swan Lake. She is too old. The
message here is clear—you can miss the boat by the ripe old age of 11.
Fernandez and Jacobson’s paintings are lovely, and re-create the
dreams and opulence of 19th-century America. Recommended with