Monday, June 14, 2010

The Little Piano Girl Ann Ingalls - Mary Ann Macdonald - Giselle Potter

The Little Piano Girl: by Ann Ingalls & MaryAnn Macdonald illus. by Giselle Potter This is the story of Mary Lou Williams a famous female jazz musician. She played around the world and composed and arranged music for Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman.
Duke Ellington said of her, Mary's music retains a standard of quality that is timeless. She is like soul on soul." (the above came from the afterword)

The story itself is a wonderful look at a female jazz musician many might unfamiliar with (inculding myself) When Mary Lou Williams was three years old she would sit on her mother's lap and play a tune on the piano. Mary Lou spent most of her time playing the piano. When the Williams family moved to Pittsburgh in search of employment at the steel mills, they had to leave the piano behind.

Mary Lou was bullied in Pittsburgh. Though she had no piano that didn't keep her from playing.

"Ugly names and cruel words. Mary called them bad sounds, and she taught herself to play them out. Even without a keyboard, she could do it. Tapping on the tabletop, she beat back the bad sounds. She crooned and whispered and shouted out until her spirit was lifted free."

I love the rhyhtm of that passage, and many others. The authors give readers a very good appreciation of Mary Lou's muscial skill and how much people enjoyed it.

"When Mary cut loose, people couldn't stay still. They set to clapping, tapping, finger- snapping. Her blue notes made people want to cry at just how hard life can be. Her crazy chords made people shimmy their shoulders and shake their heads, high and happy. Mary would play a deep, powerful bass with one hand and lay a lacework of edgy blues over the top of it with the other. Her music rolled and slid and jumped along, zigzagging and giant- stepping."

The illustrations are great and a perfect fit for the text. I always love Potter's use of color. While reading , I was reminded of something else illustrated by Giselle Potter and it finally came to me. The album cover for Jazz for Kids: a great jazz CD for kids.

The Little Piano would be a great addition to any library. ages 5up. It could be paired nicely with Piano Starts Here: by Robert A. Parker. A biography on jazz great Art Tatum.

Read an excerpt
A review @ NC Teacher Stuff

I've linked this post to Non Fiction Monday. The round up can be found this week at Books Together


Jeannine Atkins said...

I'm happy to know about this book -- thanks!
Creative, but also kind of heart-breaking, that she turned the name calling into music. And lots for readers to ponder.

Doret said...

Jeannine - I also love this bio because its shows a woman holding her own in a world that was mainly men only a the time.