‘Leo’s Gift’: A Touching, Truthful, and Wise Picture Book

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“Leo’s Gift,” ostensibly a children’s book but in fact a gift to all who read it — of any age — tells the story of a very young but very gifted boy who learns, quite by accident, of the amazing talent he possesses.

Leo hears his sister practicing piano as her recital day rapidly approaches. She dutifully practices her Mozart piece, but she makes it clear that she would much rather be outside practicing basketball, a sport which she loves and at which she excels. Leo, meanwhile, is entranced by the music; he begs his sister to show him how to make such beautiful sounds. She does so. He takes his turn at the piano and almost immediately is able to perform the Mozart piece impeccably. He is a “natural.”

As the story unfolds, Leo is brilliantly and warmly encouraged by his school’s music teacher, and he learns about the real beauty of music and the life-affirming power of his gift. The day of the recital arrives, and his sister and the other piano students happily perform the pieces they have nearly perfected. As it happens, Leo is seated next to the piano teacher’s mother, Miss Ella, during the recital. She suffers from advanced dementia and hums a vaguely recognizable tune all through the recital.

It’s the Christmas season, and Leo finally recognizes the tune she is humming: it’s “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” The recital is over. Leo sits down at the piano and begins to play Miss Ella’s piece. She emerges from her semi-aware state and sings along — a new person for at least a little while — and the entire group joins in. Leo has embraced his gift, has shared it, and has learned the real power of music and love.

The authors of “Leo’s Gift,” Susan Blackaby and Joellen Cicciarelli, reveal extraordinary and unlikely truths in this superb little novel. Yes, there really are amazingly gifted children who can perform with near other-worldly expertise shortly after their very first introductions to musical instruments. And yes, the power of familiar music can effect a return to joy and life for those afflicted with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. And finally, yes, a children’s book filled with magnificent figurative language, wise comments on human nature, and brilliantly executed demonstrations of the beauty and power of music can bring tears of recognition and happiness to even the most worldly readers. (JK)

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by the publicist for review purposes.

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