Reviews for Little Piano Girl

Booklist Reviews 2009 October #2
Lyrical, rhythmic words and stylized gouache paintings introduce jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams in this fictionalized biography. As a child prodigy, Williams was always at the keyboard. As an adult, she broke barriers as "the most famous female jazz musician of all time" in a world where women sang or danced but rarely played any instrument. Swirling images in both the words and art describe young Williams making music: "Sounds rose up from her playing, soft like the sun beaming, sharp like frogs calling, lonely like train whistles in the night." When her family moves to Pittsburgh, times are hard, and she is teased at school for wearing her mother's old shoes. But when she plays music, everyone in the neighborhood and at school gathers to hear and praise her. There is little about Williams' grown-up struggles, but a final climactic scene shows the adult star playing for a dancing crowd. An afterword closes this title about a rare figure in children's books. Copyright 2009 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2010 Fall
When her family moves to Pittsburgh, seven-year-old Mary must leave behind her beloved organ and cope with the "bad sounds"--unkind words and actions--in her new neighborhood. Invited to play piano again, Mary soon earns citywide recognition for her talent. Illustrated with Potter's vivid gouache paintings, the exuberant (fictionalized) narration is based on the life of the African American jazz pianist. Copyright 2010 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2009 December #1
Macdonald teams with her sister for this celebration of Williams's talent as a jazz pianist. It manifested early: At three, Mary played back a tune she'd heard her mother play on the family organ. After moving from Atlanta to Pittsburgh (with Mama's heavy organ sold behind them), young Mary struggles for acceptance and is ridiculed for her too-small shoes. This is more story than biography. Avowing that "[n]o one remembers exactly how it all started, how Mary began playing piano again"--the authors embroider upon one anecdote (involving a kind neighbor who invites Mary into her home to practice), inventing dialogue and imagining details about her state of mind. Potter's gouache illustrations adopt a faux-naïf, folkloric style that's simple and idealized. Even when the text observes of Pittsburgh, "…smokestacks poured fumes into the sky," readers see dainty gray plumes against green hills dotted with white houses. Acknowledging Mary's long, worldwide career as an elegant, accomplished performer "in beautiful shoes," this sweet tribute neatly fills a niche in the panoply of titles about jazz greats. (afterword) (Picture book. 5-8) Copyright Kirkus 2009 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2009 December #2

In this biography of jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams, sisters Ingalls (a newcomer) and Macdonald (Copycat Costume) record the trials of an African-American child who migrates from Atlanta to Pittsburgh, and the joy music offers her. Life in Pittsburgh is hard: neighbors throw bricks through their windows, and Mary has to borrow her mother's too-small shoes for the first day of school. "Ugly names and cruel words... Mary called them 'bad sounds,' and she taught herself to play them out." Her family and friends recognize and appreciate her gifts, though, and Mary soon witnesses the effects of her music. "When Mary cut loose, people couldn't stay still.... 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." Potter's (The Boy Who Loved Words) folk art-style gouache paintings provide a vivid portrait of industrial Pittsburgh at the beginning of the 20th century, yet have an iconic quality, too. Ingalls and Macdonald provide a touching memorial to a jazz great who is not a household name--a valuable contribution. Ages 6-9. (Jan.)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2010 February

Gr 1-5--Based on the life of an African-American jazz legend, this appealing story offers insight into the making of a musician. At age three, Mary amazes her mother, a church organist, by playing back a tune as she sits on her lap. When the family moves from Atlanta to Pittsburgh during World War I, they must leave the organ behind, but that doesn't stop Mary from hearing music in her head. When a woman from church invites her in for some ice cream, the child can't help but notice the piano, and when Lucille requests a tune, once again Mary amazes. "Soon people were paying her to play…as much as fifty cents!" At school, Mary's teacher asks her to play marches: "sometimes she slipped a boogie beat in…. The children stopped marching and danced on the stairs." "The little piano girl" gradually makes a name for herself in town. An afterword explains how Williams, who was also a composer and arranger, influenced the careers of male jazz greats "long before feminism was even a word." By focusing on her childhood, the authors make a little-known life both accessible and entertaining for young readers. The only flaw in the text occurs when the family encounters unwelcoming neighbors in Pittsburgh with little or no explanation for their cruel treatment of the newcomers. Potter's signature gouache illustrations--from the period clothing and expressive faces to the whimsical music in the air--hit the perfect note.--Barbara Auerbach, PS 217, Brooklyn, NY

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