Friday, September 2, 2011

Children's Book Review, Song of the Dove

Here is a guest book review from Holly Cardamone. 

Holly Cardamone is a Melbourne mother who worked as a freelance writer and as a communications advisor, turning a passion for language into a career. Nowadays, she spends her days chasing cherubs around a garden, as opposed to chasing words around a page. Discover more at 
Adventures in the Land of Cherubs.

On the first page of Song of the Dove, the Bay of Naples is shadowed by Mount Vesuvius, looming and foreboding. A mermaid sits on a rock and a pair of entwined doves perch whilst Bellini dreams of writing a great opera. He works as a singing teacher for Naples’ wealthy, and is ushered into grand palazzos. In the home of Signor Fumaroli he meets Maddalena. They fall in love but are forbidden from marrying. They pledge to be together when Bellini composes his tenth opera, but alas...

Song of the Dove is a picture book published by Walker Books, written by Errol Broome, and illustrated by Sonia Kretschmar.

Because I knew the original story, I was disappointed to find the character of Maddalena quite superficially explored in this book. Broome hints at her playfulness, and knowing the context of the era it becomes clear that she was indeed a strong, courageous young woman- she dared walk along the Bay of Naples with her beloved, unchaperoned. I actually found the text disappointing - I don't believe the language choice and sentence structure did it justice. To me, Kretschmar’s stunning illustrations are the making of this book. She beautifully captures the essence of this classic tale of heartbreak. The illustrations echo a period in time where class divisions characterise society, and the father is the head of the household.

Song of the Dove is a very sad story, broaching life, death and passing. It raises issues and topics of discussion that are quite evolved, I won’t be reading this with my cherubs for some time. For this reason, it reminds us that picture books are not just for young children. I think older children may relate well to Song of the Dove. It could prompt a discussion about class divisions, as well as exploring other historic great romances, parental interferences and unrequited love. I think it would be lovely for children learning music, particularly the works of different composers, and their muses. Children who enjoy art and art history will appreciate the juxtaposition between language and illustration in this book which gives the illustrator an even stronger role in the recounting of this tale.

Song of the Dove is an excellent introduction to the use of symbolism in literature, as the symbolism is obvious. The purity of Bellini and Maddalena’s romance was shown again and again through the white doves and white roses. A black raven glares from a picture on the wall when Signor Fumaroli forbids Bellini to marry Maddalena. As Maddalena sends a letter to Bellini she wears a necklace with a blood red heart. On the inside cover, two doves, a grey and a white, nestle together within a thorny white rose bush; on the last page, the white dove sits alone, head bowed.

The subtitle to this stunningly illustrated book is ‘A love story’. I wanted to love this book. The story of Bellini and Maddalena is indeed beautiful, but I don't believe the words did justice to the wonderfully evocative images. 

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