One False Note

This mystery book by Gordon Korman is the second in "The 39 Clues" series and is published by Scholastic, Inc.

One False Note is written for kids ages 9 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Plot Summary

In the first book in "The 39 Clues" series (The Maze of Bones), Dan and Amy Cahill's wealthy grandmother, Grace, dies and leaves a challenge to her large extended family: Whoever finds the 39 clues she's left behind will gain wealth and prestige beyond their wildest dreams. The winners will even have the power to change the course of history. The orphaned Amy (age 14) and her brother, Dan (age 11), lack the wealth and notoriety that many of their competing relatives already possess, but they're determined to outplay their vicious, devious family members.

In this installment, Dan and Amy travel to Vienna because of a Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart clue and visit several locations where the composer lived. They discover that Mozart's sister, Nannerl, kept a diary and two pages are missing. Searching for Nannerl's grave, they spot both their Uncle Alistair (a family competitor) and a stranger they've seen before known only as the man in black. When they follow extended family member Jonah and his father into a music store, it turns out to be the secret gateway to the Jonas lair. (Jonas is one of four competing branches of the Cahill family, the branch to which Jonah belongs.) In the elaborate art gallery that is their hideout, Dan and Amy narrowly escape with the two missing pages from Nannerl's diary. Pursued by Jonah, as well as competing relatives Ian and Natalie Kabra from another Cahill branch, the kids hide the pages on a boat they pass. Once they retrieve the pages, their au pair, Nellie, translates a German clue that leads them to a museum containing an old harpsichord once played by Mozart. When they play a Mozart composition on the instrument, a trap door opens revealing two Samurai swords. They decide to continue their quest in Tokyo, where the steel was forged.

Christian Beliefs

Several characters use the phrase Thank G-- when they're relieved that a situation has worked to their advantage. As Dan attempts to get away from the Janus clan by boat, he says all he can do is pray. The catacombs where Nannerl is buried have biblical passages on the walls.

Authority Roles

Dan and Amy's parents died in a fire years earlier. Dan and Amy are on the run from the mean aunt who serves as their guardian. Their au pair, Nellie, is barely an adult herself and acts as their companion as they search for clues. Nellie can drive and plays the token adult for the Cahill kids, but they primarily tell her what they're going to do next, and she complies. Jonah's father, Irina Spasky (a former KGB agent and Cahill relative) and the Holt parents (Eisenhower and Mary-Todd) look out only for themselves or their immediate family members. They pursue, threaten and bargain with Dan and Amy with no regard for the kids' youth or the fact that they're family. Alistair is the only grown-up with any concern for the children. His conscience bothers him when he fears he's injured rather than simply scared them by setting off an explosion in the catacombs, and he says he'd never forgive himself if something bad happened to Grace's grandkids.

Other Belief Systems

A few times, Dan and Amy use the word miracle to describe a human act or device that gets them out of a tight spot.

Profanity/Graphic Violence

The word butt appears several times. Nellie uses God's name in vain once or twice. Though no swear words appear in the text, a group of Benedictine monks curse Dan when he steals from them. Alistair curses Grace for pitting family members against each other with her contest. Dan makes a rude gesture in the direction of a competitor's boat.





Discussion Topics

If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

  • What moral and ethical dilemmas do Dan and Amy face in their effort to stay ahead in the competition?
    Is it OK for them to steal clues from their competitors? Why or why not?
    What are some of the ways Dan and Amy cheat or lie to stay ahead?
    What do they lie about?
    How do they justify their actions to themselves?
    Is it OK for them to lie under these circumstances?
    Is it OK to lie under any circumstance?
    What does the Bible say about lying?
  • Why do Dan, Amy and Nellie have hateful feelings toward their competitors?
    How would you have felt about the other Cahills if you were Dan or Amy?
    How does the Bible tell us to treat our enemies?
    Could Dan and Amy "turn the other cheek" and still win the contest?
  • How does Amy feel about being a Cahill?
    Why does she say it made her feel like a part of history?
    Are any of your ancestors famous people, or did they show integrity amid crisis?
    Do you have to have famous ancestors or come from a rich or powerful family to do good things in the world?
    What kind of people does God use to do His work?
  • What have you learned about history or geography from this story?
    If you could visit one of the cities mentioned in this book, which would you choose? Why?
  • What do you learn about Mozart and his family from this book?
    Do books that mention historical figures always include real facts?
    How could you check to see if the author's information is true?
    What are some Mozart melodies you're familiar with?
  • How do adults in the story, such as Jonah's father, Irina and the Holt parents, treat Dan and Amy?
    What do they do or say to them?
    What kind of example do these parents set for their own children?
    What does their behavior teach their kids about how to treat others?
  • Is Nellie a good role model for Dan and Amy?
    What makes a good role model?
    In your day-to-day adventures, how are your parents your role models?
  • In the real world, could two kids and a young lady, such as Nellie, travel all over the world on their own?
    How would they pay for their adventures? How would they eat?
    What would they wear?
    What foreign languages would they need to know?


Alcohol: On the yacht where Dan and Amy have hidden the lost pages from Nannerl's diary, the kids watch members of a wedding party toast with champagne.

Online component: Numerous relatives, both living competitors and famous historical figures, constitute the complex genealogy of the Cahill family in this series. Readers can learn more about the rival Cahill branches and discover additional clues online. Kids are also encouraged to collect the game cards that come with the books, and they can win cash and prizes for solving clues.

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

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