School Library Journal
December 1, 2012
Bright double-page sections combine advice about politeness with large, often full-page illustrations. Ingalls emphasizes that manners are based upon respect and consideration for others, and her suggestions for developing good habits are clear and understandable. Occasional jokes and humorous suggestions enliven the text and are age-appropriate. Most of Rooney’s colorful cartoons depict a diverse group of kids doing the proper thing, but a few show examples of selfish or unmannerly behavior. ‘Did You Know?’ factoids provide additional information or tell readers about customs in other countries. Brief glossaries define terms and use them in sentences; a ‘Quick Quiz’ at the end of each book reinforces main points. These titles are suited for a number of educational settings as well as for individual reading, making them strong choices for emerging readers.
Little Piano Girl
Featured in the Kansas City Star on Feb. 5th. Read the interview.
Interviewed on KCUR Radio! Read the feature and listen to the program.
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.)
From her childhood, Mary Lou loved music. When her family moves to Pittsburgh, she must leave her beloved organ behind. She finds the city gloomy and the neighbors and other children unwelcoming. Even without the organ, however, she taps out and sings music to uplift her spirits. When she finds a piano she can play again, people begin to pay her to play. Soon she can “tease a tune out of nowhere.” Her playing inspires people everywhere. She “boogied and bebopped with the best” for almost sixty years, setting feet to tapping along with her own. Potter creates folksy portraits of Mary, her family, and the settings of her life from white picket fence to hand-cranked record player. We watch her grow from early childhood in stiff, flatly painted, gouache representations in Potter’s typical style. Factual notes are included. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
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
THE LITTLE PIANO GIRL: The Story of Mary Lou Williams, Jazz Legend / HOUGHTON MIFFLIN BOOKS FOR CHILDREN by Ann Ingalls and Maryann Macdonald. Illustrations by Giselle Potter.
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)
(Click the thumbnails to view full letters.)
“Thanks for coming. The little piano Girl was great. I learned she was a great piano player. And She help people who DiDin’t have anuf money. And thanks for Showing pichers of mary Lou williams. And Leting us Listen to her play.”
Emily says and then asks:
“I learned that it takes alot of patience to write a book. P.S. Aryou happy that your book has been published?”
“I couldn’t wiat until you came. Please excuse the bad hand-writing and possibly mis-spelled words.”
“Why did you choose to write about her? What was your faverite part about her life, childhood, and musical life? Please email me the answers at ….”
“I was so interesting when you read a story by showing pictures (Powerpoint.) I really felt that I’m listening her music. I knew about jazz, too. I thought jazz is boring song but you made my mind upsidedown.”
“Did you know that I play the piano and I don’t really know what type it is? If you can find me some songs that Mary composed or playd, just mail a letter to my school for website suggestions.”
“I learned how long it takes to write a book 8 years is a long time! If I had to write a book I woulod write it about soccer.”
Sincerely yours. Thank you for answering my questions.
You’re quite welcome, Selena and friends!