The Magic Flute

Richard Jackson Bks/Atheneum/. Aug. 2019. 48p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481449021.
Gr 3 Up–Raschka’s picture book staging of Mozart’s opera blends theater, graphic novel elements, and the artist’s well-honed use of watercolor, filling the pages with entertaining and challenging story bits. He presents the story in two acts, with 20 scenes in the first and 31 in the second. His multilayered production features a two-part narrative. Above each numbered scene is a framed synopsis of what’s happening: “The gods pity Papageno in spite of everything he has done wrong. He will never be enlightened, but he may have wine, which is what Papageno prefers anyway.” Beneath each line of text, the performing characters speak in conversation balloons. Tamino and sidekick Papageno join in a perilous quest for love and enlightenment in a strange, unnamed land where the Queen of Night is bent on destroying the priestly king, Sarastro. An opening page introduces the seven main characters and one of the several sets of three characters—the ladies who serve the Queen of Night are here, but four other trios will come along later. The slaves, gods, priests, and Wise Boys, all depicted in tiny views, all have important work to do. Romance, revenge, Tamino’s enlightenment training, the almost anticlimactic use of that flute, and a big snake, too, play out at a fast clip. Raschka keeps it all going in stacks of busy, colorful sketches running horizontally across the pages. Much could be said about the art and the layout. There’s plenty of cheeky humor, too. It gets confusing at times, but there’s surely fun for the patient reader.
VERDICT Stretching the possibilities of the picture book format—a tour de force for older children and adults.

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