cover image Bach's Big Adventure

Bach's Big Adventure

Timothy Bush, Sallie Ketcham. Orchard Books (NY), $16.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-531-30140-1

When people hear the name Johann Sebastian Bach, they think of the composer he became, as in Jeanette Winter's Sebastian (reviewed above), not the ambitious boy he once was. Ketcham takes the reverse approach in this affectionate debut ""based on a story that Bach liked to tell."" Teenage Bach, known as Sebastian, longs to hear the renowned organist Jan Adam Reincken, who lives in Hamburg. Since Sebastian has no money, he walks 30 miles to Reincken's home city, past half-timbered cottages and haystacks, and into cobblestone streets where workers heft flour sacks and load freight on wooden barges. Finally, Sebastian hears Reincken play and is humbled by the master's talent. ""I used to be the greatest organist in all of Germany and the world!"" Sebastian sobs. Reincken invites the boy to play, too, and afterward declares, ""I thought the art had died, but now I see it lives in you."" Ketcham, who introduces the dramatis personae in an informative foreword, celebrates Sebastian's determination and gently cautions against too much pride. In his lively watercolor scenes of Northern Europe, circa 1700, Bush (Benjamin McFadden and the Robot Babysitter) recalls details from Brueghel's canvases (though he replaces the grotesquery with softer slapstick), and echoes the changing tenor of the text with scenes that are at times bustling with activity and at times peaceful and reflective. The author and illustrator convince the audience that charming Sebastian is both naive and bold--a model young celebrity for the turn-of-the-(18th-)century. Ages 5-9. (Mar.)