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Frederic Chopin, Son of Poland Set (books and CD) Review by Kathy Gelzer

Opal Wheeler and Judy Wilcox
Zeezok Publishing
PO Box 1960
Elyria, OH 44036

The Frederic Chopin, Son of Poland set comes with two paperback biographies: one covering the early years (1810-1829) and another covering the later years (1830-1849). Recently reprinted by Zeezok, these classic books are about 155 pages each, with detailed pen-and-ink illustrations by Christine Price almost every two pages. The book also contains written music by the composer woven into the story line: "They were startled at the beauty of the night pieces, especially enjoying this nocturne, so filled with plaintive longing." And then, the piece is right there, inviting you to play it! There are eight songs in the first book and ten in the second.

The study guide by Judy Wilcox is a 39-page gem of a booklet. It has reading comprehension questions, character qualities (positive and negative), and "tidbits of interest" for each chapter in both books. Not only are thorough answers included right under each question, but there are also page numbers indicating where to find the answers in the text. The "tidbits" section has extra information and some suggested activities and recipes. Endnotes at the back of the study guide show that the book is well researched and point the reader to more resources.

The third component of this Chopin package is a CD that includes MP3 audio files and printable sheet music for all the music in the two books, as well as coloring pages taken from the charming book illustrations.

Though the biographies do not have suggested ages, the study guide is for grades K through six. I think one could even push the upper age out into middle school, especially with the meaty questions and depth of information available in the study guide. While the books and study guide are not overly religious, there is a high moral tone to them.

This is an extremely comprehensive, well-conceived music appreciation curriculum. Other composer biographies are available from Zeezok. It's handy to have the music in written and audio form, and this adds a very necessary dimension to the course. The study guide gets high marks for thoroughness. It practically doubles as character study material. I appreciated Judy Wilcox's sensitivity to some details of Chopin's life. His extramarital relationship with Aurore Dupin Dudevant, otherwise known as George Sand, is explained in the study guide but not in the biography, leaving it up to the parent to decide how much to reveal. The attention to detail is also noteworthy. All the songs mentioned in the books include the CD track number, and the CD case includes book page numbers for all the tracks.

The back cover of the study guide claims that the product is "packed" with timelines and maps. In truth, the study guide contains one timeline of Chopin's life and one map of Poland, which is completely adequate! So why embellish? The back cover also says that the study guide would be "a perfect addition to any study of master composers." However, with all the page number references and quotes, I think the study guide goes hand-in-hand with these particular texts. I don't see how the study guide would be a great help in studying other Chopin biographies. The Zeezok marketing department will want to make their claims accurate. They already have a super product here; it's so needless to add padding.

The chapters in the books are a bit long--about 25 to 40 pages. Even though the text is broken up with illustrations and music, this might be a stretch for some children to sit through.

Overall, this "great composer" curriculum is excellent. Anyone including music appreciation in their homeschool will want to get this package of materials. And if your children are studying an instrument, especially piano, I would heartily recommend this set for the sheet music and CD alone.

Product review by Kathy Gelzer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, August 2007