The 39 Apartments of Ludwig Van Beethoven by Jonah Winter


ChildrenThe 39 apartments of Ludwig van Beethoven The 39 Apartments of Ludwig van BeethovenJonah Winter; Schwartz & Wade Books 2006WorldCatIllustrations by Barry Blitt

Review by Molly

The narrative opens with infant Beethoven laying in his cradle and wailing “wah, wah, wah, WAH.” The three facts of birth, apartment living and legless pianos are presented in short order. The facts are followed closely by questions which never really get answered: Did Beethoven really pour water on top of his head while composing? Why did he live in so many apartments, and what were those apartments like? The tale trails page to page with Beethoven, his pianos, movers and neighbors presented delightfully by illustrator Blitt.

The 39 Apartments of Ludwig van Beethoven is a lively picture book. The narrative begins with three facts; readers are presented with the year of his birth, 1770, that Beethoven composed his music on five legless pianos and he lived in thirty nine different apartments in and around Vienna. Written in documentary form the reader is hurried from apartment to apartment, watches as movers move the five legless pianos, and listens to the complaints of neighbors and movers. The major reality of the work, other than the initial three, is that pianos are difficult to move.

The joke presented in the book is found on the last page, but it does take some thinking to get to it. The 39 Apartments of Ludwig van Beethoven is a quirky, droll work filled with little fact and much speculation. One important fact is we, the reader, learn little of Beethoven or his apartments, and that is part of the joke. The major certainty of the work is that pianos are difficult to move. Children who have little to no prior understanding for who Beethoven is or why he is important may soon tire of the tale as Beethoven forgets to pay the rent, or lives in a smelling apartment, or makes too much noise. His movers grumble about moving the pianos, however, they devise the most outlandish, impractical modes for getting the instruments from place to place.

Illustrator Blitt’s wonderful pen and ink and watercolor works were a great hit with my resident critics. Fourth grade, Wynona Elementary School, Oklahoma. The tale as presented by Jonah Winter was met with lack of joy. The students listened intently, they take their job as resident reviewers very seriously. At tale’s end there was long moment of stunned silence followed by “this is not a book meant for us”. I personally enjoyed the work, but then, I am an adult and not a member of the target audience. One youngster opined that the book is meant for ‘much younger children,’ while the balance of the class searched for words to clarify their own feelings. Finally the class decided The 39 Apartments of Ludwig van Beethoven may look like a children’s picture book, it is actually a book written by an adult who is writing for other adults, and not for kids. I believe I do agree.

I plan to keep the book in the classroom and see if it grows on the kids. It is possible that with the book available for free choice reading that the book will be willingly chosen, read and perhaps enjoyed more than this first reading seemed to indicate. As I said, I personally enjoyed the book, the illustrations are great, the loony movers and their Rube Goldberg methodology was fun, and the book in general tickled my funny bone. However, I remain not a member of the target audience; the 4 to 9 year olds for whom the book was written.

Enjoyed the read, do not know how to recommend. Adults by and large are not going to rush right out to buy what appears to be a children’s book, especially when the book is being offered as for children per the publisher. The children in my class did not express any cheer for the book other than their enjoyment of the illustrations.

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