Dahlberg, Maurine F. 1951–
Dahlberg, Maurine F. 1951–
Born 1951. Education: Studied piano. Hobbies and other interests: Playing piccolo and flute in a concert band.
Home—Springfield, VA. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 19 Union Square W., New York, NY 10003.
Children's book author. Editor for Navy Research Institute.
Play to the Angel, Puffin Books (New York, NY), 2000.
The Spirit and Gilly Bucket, Puffin Books (New York, NY), 2002.
Escape to West Berlin, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux (New York, NY), 2004.
Author and editor Maurine F. Dahlberg won the acclaim of critics with her first children's book, Play to the Angel, which centers on a twelve-year-old Viennese girl who aspires to become a concert pianist during the height of the Nazi occupation during World War II. A Publishers Weekly reviewer acknowledged Dahlberg for her "memorable passages about music and musicianship," and noted that the author's "plotting is solid." After the death of her elder brother Kurt, young Greta Radky is left lonely and grieves the loss of her brother, who had been the only man in her life since her father abandoned the family when she was three years old.
The only other person Greta can hope to confide in is her mother, but a distance between the two now develops and manifests itself through the piano Kurt owned and has left behind. A talented concert pianist, Kurt was never able to fulfill his dream because of his hemophilia; now Frau Radky cannot bear to see or hear the piano being played. While she hopes to sell the instrument to relieve her sadness, Greta feels a need to play the piano as a way to honor Kurt's memory. Dahlberg's story takes a shift when Herr Hummel, a piano teacher, moves into Greta's apartment building and encourages the girl to pursue her dream of becoming a pianist.
As the story of Greta, her mother, and Herr Hummel unfolds, Dahlberg aptly intermixes the historic backdrop of war, including the Nazi military campaign, and reveals how the war changes the lives of her characters. Sarah Prince, reviewing Play to the Angel in the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, stated that Dahlberg "captured well the thoughts and feelings of a girl caught in the middle of turmoil, trying hard to understand all that is occurring." In a similar fashion, School Library Journal contributor Connie Tyrrell Burns, commented that, "While the unusual Holocaust setting is well drawn and rings true, Play to the Angel is first and foremost a novel about a girl who pursues a dream and learns to believe in herself."
With her 2002 historical novel The Spirit and Gilly Bucket Dahlberg intermixes the issues of antebellum slavery with a story about a young girl who learns to cope on her own after the death of her mother and the absence of her father. Eleven-year-old Gilly Bucket is sent to her aunt and uncle's house in Virginia after the death of her mother; meanwhile, Gilly's father temporarily leaves the girl to pursue the dream of getting rich quick by finding gold in the West. Upon her arrival in Virginia, Gilly is dismayed to find that her aunt and uncle own a plantation that utilizes slaves. Gilly's mood is brightened, however, when she makes friends with Rissy, a kitchen slave who dreams of finding her father in the same manner that Gilly does. Gilly and Rissy's growing friendship is halted when Gilly's uncle sells Rissy to a cruel neighbor. In an effort to save her friend, Gilly helps Rissy escape through the Underground Railroad, an action that eventually leads to some shocking revelations. School Library Journal reviewer Janet Gillen noted that The Spirit and Gilly Bucket is a "the-matically rich, fully developed story [that] deals with friendship, trust, courage, and the familial love in the years just prior to the Civil War."
Moving forward through time to a more recent era, Escape to West Berlin juxtaposes the 1961 division of East and West Berlin with a young girl's developing emotional maturity. As Kimberly Monaghan wrote in School Library Journal, Dahlberg presents readers with "a realistic portrayal" of the divisions caused by the construction of the Berlin Wall, and added that "cultural lessons and German dialect are smoothly incorporated into the narrative." Several critics commented that the highlight of the novel is its protagonist, thirteen-year-old Heidi Klenk. As Courtney Milanovich wrote in the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy: "Dahlberg provides a sympathetic character with whom students will easily identify." In the novel East Berliner Heidi finds it difficult having to adjust to the many disappointments of her summer. For one thing, because her mother is pregnant, the girl's parents decide against visiting Heidi's favorite grandmother. Heidi's biggest disappointment comes in the form of a surprise blow when her parents reveal that the family will be defecting to non-Communist West Berlin. Horn Book contributor Roger Sutton acknowledged that Escape to West Berlin is a "fast-moving" novel, and added that Heidi's first-person narration "keeps readers in a front-row seat to thrilling events," her narrative voice "that of an ordinary and likeable young teen rising to the challenge of extraordinary demands."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Horn Book, November-December, 2004, Roger Sutton, Escape to West Berlin, p. 706.
Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, February, 2002, Sarah Prince, review of Play to the Angel, p. 437; December, 2004, Cortney Milanovich, Escape to West Berlin, p. 353.
Publishers Weekly, July 3, 2000, review of Play to the Angel, p. 72.
School Library Journal, September, 2000, Connie Tyrrell Burns, review of Play to the Angel, p. 225; December, 2002, Janet Gillen, review of The Spirit and Gilly Bucket, p. 132; November, 2004, Kimberly Monaghan, Escape to West Berlin, p. 140.