Ms. Ila’s Middle Grade Reading Club: Duet by Elise Broach

In this month's book selection, Duet, Elise Broach writes a book in the mystery genre about a boy, a goldfinch, and a missing piano. Written in the voice of the goldfinch, we learn about the hidden lives of birds, in addition to the mystery of the missing piano.

If you love music, mysteries, and birds, you will really enjoy this book!

Elise Broach, the writer, has an undergraduate and a graduate degree in history, and you can certainly see why in this book! We learn about the composer Frédéric François Chopin and Pleyel pianos, which have been around since around Chopin's time in the 1800's.

Mirabelle's Story

Duet, which is told from the viewpoint of Mirabelle the goldfinch, is a fascinating story about making connections with others who may be very different.

In this story, Michael, who befriends Mirabelle, is a tween who is very unhappy about changing his piano tutor. His former tutor, Emily, recognizes that his talent has exceeded her teaching skills, so she transfers his lessons to her mentor, Mr. Starek. Both teachers recognize Michael's genius and realize that if he plays at the Chopin Festival, he can gain recognition for his talents. Recognition means scholarships, accolades, and a splendid future in music.

Mirabelle is also a musical genius who has identified three types of students as follows:

  • Those who play, with no interest in music lack passion.
  • Those who practice very hard and play well but who are not talented.
  • Those who play naturally, even though they don't work as hard.

When she hears Michael play, she learns that there is a fourth kind of student: one with musical genius who will outplay even those who practice very hard. Emily, the latter type of student, knows that Michael is a genius.

Michael is a very loyal student and stubbornly refuses to play for Mr. Starek until Emily returns to encourage him to try.

Soon, Michael is doing warm-up duets with Mirabelle, whose singing elevates Michael's warm-ups!

Mirabelle has her own backstory: her mom is pregnant, which worries Mirabelle and her two brothers. They worry that they will soon be supplanted by the new siblings.

Meanwhile, Mr. Starek has his own mysteries. A deceased sister has left an enormous mess for Mr. Starek to clean up. One of the items that Mr. Starek's sister claims to own is a piano called a Pleyel, which is a special kind of piano that Chopin played because the piano maker made them for Chopin: more delicate and subtle. The Pleyel sound matches perfectly to Chopin's music! If you are interested in his music, you can check our Music Collections Index to learn how to find his sheet music.

Chopin plays a special part in this story. If you are interested in his history, the Library can help you, too!

Elise Broach's Favorite Subject!

As I mentioned, Elise Broach has both an undergraduate and a graduate degree in history.

Ms. Broach likes to intertwine history in her stories, as she does in this story. Chopin, a real composer, George Sand, a writer, and Eugene Delacroix, an artist, play crucial roles in Duet.

If you would like to learn more about people like Chopin, Sand, or Delacroix, we have a special database about people called the Biography in Context. You will need your library card and PIN!

If you would like to learn more about when Chopin lived, for instance, we have two historical databases, one for U.S. History and the other one for World History. Both databases also require your library card and PIN. The World History Database in Context will have information about when Chopin lived.

Another historical matter Broach covers is the rare but beautiful Pleyel pianos.

Some Questions to Consider

  • Why do you think Chopin was a master piano music composer? Have you listened to any of his works?
  • Did you find anything interesting about goldfinches after reading this story?
  • Why do you think Michael didn't want to switch tutors at first? Do you think he could have handled it differently?
  • What did Mirabelle mean, when she spoke about the different kinds of students?
  • Do you think everyone has a talent that makes them a genius at something? Do you think Emily is a genius at something? What about Mr. Starek's sister?
  • What is a foreclosure? Do you think what the bank did was wrong? Do you think they could have handled the foreclosure a different way?
  • Do you think Mirabelle did the right thing by staying with Mr. Starek instead of going to the Festival?
  • What did you think about the mystery of the paintings? Do you think all three pieces should go together? Or do you think it is fine that some are at the Louvre and one is in Denmark?

In Duet, we read about Michael, who is a musical genius. What about someone who seems to be a genius, but may not be? Next month, we will read about a girl who thinks she is not quite as gifted as everyone else thinks she is and how she feels like she has to please everyone. What happens when everyone expects too much from you? How would that make you feel? Let's read Golden Ticket by Kate Egan.

If you have any questions or comments, let me know in the comments below!