“'There's cold chicken inside it,' replied the Rat briefly; 'coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrench

'O stop, stop,' cried the Mole in ecstacies: 'This is too much!'”
-- from
The Wind in the Willows

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Little Piano Girl: The Story of Mary Lou Williams, Jazz Legend • Picture book

by Ann Ingalls and Maryann Macdonald illustrations by Giselle Potter
Ages 6 - 9
What if you loved music more than anything?
Story:  Suppose you had just learned to play the piano.  Imagine that your family has to move to a new city and you have to leave your piano behind.  People don't like you in the new city because of what you look like.  How will you make yourself fell better?  Mary Lou Williams, like Mozart, began playing the piano when she was four; at eight she became a professional musician.  She wrote and arranged music for Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and was one of the most powerful women in jazz.

This is the story of Mary Lou's childhood in Pittsburgh, where she played the piano for anyone who would listen.  Just in time for the centennial of this jazz legend's birth, The Little Piano Girl is the perfect story to share with budding musicians everywhere.
Story behind the story:  Ann Ingalls and Maryann Macdonald are sisters and lifelong music lovers.  They grew up in a family of eight children (and lots of pets) so, as Maryann says, "it's not surprising that I grew up loving stories and wanting to write my own."  The Little Piano Girl is Ann's first book -- and Maryann's 22nd!  If you'd like to meet the authors, Ann's doing a lot of events in MO and in DC; check out her schedule to see her on the road (she'll even be at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts!).  Plus, you and your students will enjoy Maryann's recipe for a good story.  And, for fun, here's a link to the official rules of Hopscotch, which was Mary Lou’s favorite game.  

Want to hear Mary Lou's music and watch her play?  Plenty of footage at the Mary Lou Williams Foundation site. (I'm being serenaded right now!).

"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." 
-- Kirkus Reviews 

"Potter's folks-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." 
-- Publishers Weekly

FYI: all the review copies for this title have been sent; please check back on the "comments" link to read what your colleagues have to say.


    Rebecca Fabian said...

    Hi Deborah,

    I've awarded you the Prolific Blogger Award here:


    I know I can always count on your blog for interesting, insightful book recommendations. Thank you so much for blogging!


    Barbara said...

    I was not familiar with the story of Mary Lou Williams and this book (combined with online listening to some of her jazz recordings) brought her to life. The book focuses mostly on her music and only mentions in passing the economics and racial constraints of the time period, so I would limit its usefulness to the younger audience it was written for. The rich vocabulary and engaging illustrations make it suitable for a small group read-aloud.
    Rating : 3

    loonyhiker said...

    I definitely give this book a 5. This is a wonderful picture book for children of all ages. The story and the illustrations were excellent. Before this book, I had never heard of Mary Lou Williams but it made me want to learn more about her. Her story was fascinating. I can see this book being used in an elementary school classroom. Topics that can be introduced or enriched are reading, vocabulary, art, geography, music, diversity, and history. Pittsburgh and the steel industry could become a lesson. War time and feminism is touched upon and could be discussed further.

    janew said...

    My 4-5 year olds loved this jazzy story and immediately recognized the stylized paintings as Potter's! They discussed and debated how she learned to play piano so very young, wondered why some people are mean,questioned who was older Mamie or Mary and, after listening to an MLW recording, laid down some hot licks on their air pianos! The children wanted to know why there were discrepancies between when William's (interview) said she began playing and playing professionally with the information from the book's jacket flap and book's narrative. We all wished that Ingalls & MacDonald had included a reference list. But that, too, led us to rich discussion.
    Wild! 4

    Julie said...

    The LIttle Piano Girl is a great book to use when discussing biographies in the younger grades. My 3rd graders especially enjoyed the figurative language "Sounds rose up from her playing, soft like the sun beanming, sharp like frogs calling, lonely like train whistles in the night" I have recommended this to our music teacher to use to introduce Jazz music. Several students decided to research Ms. Wiliams further. We have learned quite a bit about someone we had never heard of before. I give this book a strong 4.

    Sarah O. said...

    I give The Little Piano Girl a Picnic Basket rating of 5 out of 5.

    The sister authors of this book, as is stated about them on the back flap, have a passion for their subject at hand, and this book certainly is evidence of their passion.

    The first thing that strikes me about this book is that it does not explicitly state that the main character, although having brown colored skin, was made fun of as a child because of her skin color. Thus, it would not cross the mind of a young, ignorant child having any skin color, who read this book, that she may have been made fun of for that reason. The illustrations, even, are a bit ambiguous about this fact. Further, I like how the authors, not until the end of the book, simply bring attention to the fact that she “became the most famous female jazz musician of all time;” this tones down the fact of gender, and brings no attention to her race at all, which I believe is perfect for this current generation of children who are growing up in a society where racism and sexism are not valued.

    A couple more attributes that I appreciate about this book is that it is rich in musical, rhythmic, story language, and also includes a few historical facts; names, technical terms, and places. These attributes are useful in capturing a child’s attention and at the same time, a child’s curiosity which leads to questions and research. What, for example, is an organ? What is a Victrola? Where are Pittsburgh, the Monongahela River, and the Allegheny Mountains?

    Finally, I also like how the book, either intentionally or unintentionally, captures certain values which the main character held. Two of which include, calmly and productively dealing with hurts of life and society, and hard work and saving money in order to get what one needs and wants.

    Sarah Oyerinde
    Mother of almost 3 children.
    Aspiriting secondary English language arts teacher.
    Marion, Indiana

    Anonymous said...

    This was a nice picture book that tells the story of Mary Lou Williams (who was not known to me). Potter's illustrations add to the story.

    Rating: 3

    Heather H -Children's Librarian
    Newport Beach Public Library
    Newport Beach, CA

    Mason Roseberry said...

    This was a fantastic book that was well written and amazingly illustrated. I really enjoyed this book and gave it to my SpEd aid (in a Middle School) to read. She wanted to use it as a book for her students to read for their biography genre.

    I would like to give The Little Piano Girl a Picnic Basket rating of 5 out of 5.

    M. Battista said...

    Although I enjoyed this book, I wasn't wowed by it. It touched on many important things like racism, poverty and the struggle to make friends, yet didn't explore those themes as much as I would have liked. It left me with many questions about her life. Because she is not well known today a little more information included in the Afterward would have been helpful. I liked the use of color and the full page illustrations, but they also felt a little flat and two dimensional.

    I rate this book a 3.

    Denair Elementary School
    Denair, CA

    EL said...

    A good introduction to a female jazz musician. A story that children can easily grasp. 3 out 5

    Carrie Blagg said...

    I'm a librarian assistant, but I'm also a mother of two. I decided to read this book to my 6-year-old kindergartener. As I read the book she had many questions: Why did Mary Lou Williams go barefoot? Why did her heels stick out of her mother's shoes? Why didn't the white girl next door like her? and What did it mean to "play out 'bad sounds'?" Not only did we both learn about Mary Lou Williams, but it also brought up questions dealing with racism, poverty, and never giving up in spite of cruel things being said. Many valuable lessons were discussed that day and what an opportunity to discuss these issues in a classroom.

    I give this book a 5 out of 5!

    Carrie Blagg
    Cherokee Elementary School
    Paradise Valley, AZ

    EShay said...

    I am ashamed I was unawaure of Mary Lou Williams before this book, and I have a degree in music. This book was charming and heartwarming. Her triumph over poverty and talent were inspiring.
    The pictures fit the story and the bold, bright colors helped keep the sadness from consuming parts of the story.
    I give it a 5.

    Tina's Blog said...

    The Little Piano Girl: The Story of Mary Lou Williams, Jazz Legend by Ann Ingalls and Maryann Macdonald and illustrated by Giselle Potter is just the type of picture book biography I like best. I always enjoy reading about an important person who had been unknown to me. Having never herad of Mary Lou Williams I was interested immediately in her story and learning about her talent. This biography focuses on Mary Lou's musical ability, and would be most useable in a lower elementary setting since many details about her life are left out. Students will enjoy the illustrations and will be able to identify with this story since Williams is depicted as a child in this biography. Racism and the role of women in society at the time are touched on and also provide a springboard for further research or discussion. This is a great selection for people looking for a biography on a lesser known person in history.
    Rating 4/5

    Heather Hill said...

    "The Little Piano Girl" is a great way to introduce biographies to younger students. Students will also love to listen to her music before and after reading the book. I read the book to my 4 year old and he enjoyed the story, though he wanted to know more. I would possibly also use the book to begin talking about research if first or second graders wanted to know more about Mary Lou Williams.

    I give this book a 4 out of 5. Well worth having in your collection.

    Heather Hill, Reading Specialist
    Enterprise Elementary
    Woodbridge, VA

    Anonymous said...

    My children loved the story "The Little Piano Girl: The Story of Mary Lou Williams,Jazz Legend." It is what sparked even more of an interest for my children to learn how to play an instrument. They would like to see what music they can play. It has also sparked their interest in people who already are musicians, they wanted to know if everyone starts off while they are children or do some learn when they are older.

    I feel this book is a nice starting point to introduce music to little ones, and to learn about someone seldom heared of. It also introduces them to a type of music Jazz showing the children that musci is categorized into different classes.


    Maria Elena

    Julie Hembree said...

    The Little Piano Girl is a tender story about a not so well known jazz musician. Reading the story and following up with listening to Mary Lou's music would bring her story to life. I would definitely recommend it to music teachers to complement units on jazz music or pianists. Also a good choice for a biography unit or Black History Month. Mary Lou's experiences with poverty and racism, while maintaining a musical focus could open some great class discussions.The illustrator has a very distinctive style which may appeal to many readers.

    Rating: 3+
    Julie Hembree, School Librarian
    AG Bell Elementary School
    Kirkland, WA

    Lemon the Duck said...

    This book showcases a great artist who has seem to have been lost by the passing of time—a great role model with a passion for her talent, one kids can look up to when they feel things are too "hard" or that they'll never "get it right". Mary Lou Williams was a girl with a strong core and amazing talent that children can relate to even though they’re growing up generations later.
    The word choice had a rhythm of its own and the illustrations conveyed the time period. Some of my second graders predicted the decade of the story with great accuracy based on the picture walk.
    There are so many "greats" children should be exposed to and this book showcased a true inspiration.
    I rate this book a 5 out of 5
    Laura Backman
    Hathaway School

    Anonymous said...

    After reading "The Little Piano Girl..." I shared this book with the music teacher so that she could share it with her students. She was very excited about using this story with her music students. I always like to find picture books that the teachers in my school can use with their classes. I am so happy to be a part of the Picnic Basket bloggers. For this reason I give this story a 5 in my picnic basket.

    Peaceful Reader said...

    From the very first page you can tell this is going to be a fun book to read. Mary is riding on a train and is clapping and singing along to the sounds she hears. The author's don't just tell us that, they show us, "She sang the sound of its whistle, 'Chug-ga, chug-ga, chug-ga...Toot! Toot!' The train went faster, leaving home behind. 'Clackety-clack! Clackety-clack! Clackety-clack! Mary clapped and sang softly so that Mama and her sister, Mamie, could sleep." (1)

    There seems to be a whole new genre of biographies in fiction format, making them perfect read-alouds. Authors Ingalls and Macdonald wrote this with such a good rhythm that the words practically POP off the page. Everything snaps together while we learn about Mary Lou Williams and how she learned to play sitting on her mother's lap at the age of three. The illustrations by Giselle Potter (The Boy Who Loved Words) are bold and evoke an early era.

    5/5 picnic basket rating

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