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In pop culture, YADA-YADA usually means "blah, blah, blah" or "more of the same." For this blog, YADA-YADA is an acronym meaning "Young Adult Discussions About Young Adult-Designed Art." Check out my summaries and reviews of teen media. Chime in and let me know what you think!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Blog No. 17--The Mysteries of Beethoven's Hair by Russell Martin and Lydia Nibley

YA Nonfiction

Title: The Mysteries of Beethoven’s Hair
Author: Russell Martin and Lydia Nibley

Bibliographic Information:
Published: February 2009
Publisher: Charlesbridge Pub Inc.
Format: Hardcover, 120pp
ISBN-13: 9781570917141
ISBN: 1570917140
Reading Level: Grades 6-9
Reading Age: 10-14

Colorado Book Award

Reader’s Annotation:
When the great composer was laid to rest in 1827, fifteen-year-old musician Ferdinand Hiller clipped a lock of Beethoven’s hair and put it into a locket as a remembrance. In 1994, more than a century later, Beethoven’s hair ended up as the prized possession of two wealthy Americans, who had it genetically tested and started to unravel the great mysteries behind this amazing composer’s life, health and deepest secrets.

Plot Summary:
Based on his adult novel about the same topic, Russell Martin and his co-writer Lydia Nibley created a young adult version of this amazing nonfiction story. In 1994, two wealthy Americans—both serious fans of the composer Beethoven—stumbled upon and purchased a lock of the great composer’s hair. They had it genetically tested, and with these tests discovered several amazing scientific facts about the life, death and overall health of Ludwig von Beethoven, giving readers insight into the illnesses and issues with which Beethoven has to deal with throughout his life. Testing unraveled many mysteries about his hearing loss, possible lead poisoning and the composer’s depression. How the men came about the hair is amazing too—starting with the fifteen-year-old music student, Ferdinand Hiller—who first clipped a lock of his idol’s hair and placed it into a locket which he passed down to his son, from his son to his grandson and so on, until it was acquired by the Americans. How it was kept from the Nazi’s during the Holocaust was yet just one more fascinating tale in the mystery of Beethoven’s hair.

Critical Evaluation:
While I have not read the adult version of this book, I found the YA version to be very exciting—particularly if one is a fan of Beethoven and/or forensic science. This book is written like a detective story, making this very true tale almost feel like a very interesting work of someone’s imagination. Truth can sometimes be stranger—or more exciting—than fiction. The authors paint an interesting picture of Beethoven, and what his life must have been like, based on the small sample of his hair, which was tested and retested by forensic scientists. The story of how the hair was acquired was very interesting, and depicted the lengths to which people went to preserve artifacts during the Holocaust. Peppered throughout the book are great facts about Beethoven’s life and his music, which made the book, come alive. There are great photos, including the eerie one on the cover of the deceased Beethoven. Probably one of the truly great aspects of this book is that the authors spent time discussing the process of research with young adults, and how the concept of narrative nonfiction works. This is a must read for any music student, or anyone interested in the field of forensic science.

Reading level/Interest Age:
Reading level is easy, and the publisher recommends this book for as young as ten years old, and as old as 14. However, I read this book as an adult, and I couldn’t put it down! I think the author’s revision of the adult novel makes this book even better—it is certainly more accessible, and clear to all ages.

Information about the Author:
Russell Martin graduated from the Colorado College, where he also taught for eighteen years. He was the recipient of a Thomas Watson fellowship in Great Britain and became a journalist and news reporter prior to starting his career as a write of novels. Martin has also written several other books, Out of Silence (1994), A Story That Stands Like A Dam: Glen Canyon and the Struggle for the Soul of the West (1989), Beautiful Islands (1988); The Color Orange: A Super Bowl Season with the Denver Broncos (1987); Matters Gray and White: A Neurologist, His Patients & the Mysteries of the Brain (1986). In addition, Martin also edited two anthologies of cowboy writing in 1992. In 1995, he was given an honorary Ph.D. by his college.

Curriculum Ties:
Music appreciation class or science class.

Booktalking Ideas:
A lock of Beethoven’s Hair mysteriously appears and two wealthy American collectors by it. They have the hair tested, and are able to unlock really great and interesting secrets about the composer’s past.

Challenge Issues:
None. If people challenge this book, then they will challenge anything, except themselves for not reading it.

Why I Included This Book:
This was on Booklist and I purchased it for our library. I was the first one to read it, but since then many students have checked it out!

Cover image courtesy of: http://www.amazon.com/Mysteries-Beethovens-Hair-Russell-Martin/dp/1570917140

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