Review of Dancing Hands

Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln
by Margarita Engle; illus. by Rafael López
Primary    Atheneum    40 pp.
8/19    978-1-4814-8740-5    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-4814-8741-2    $10.99 

Engle and López (Drum Dream Girl, rev. 5/15) bring us another engaging story about a young, successful, female musician of Latinx descent. Teresa Carreño (1853–1917) learned to play piano early in life in Venezuela, her “happy hands danc[ing] / across all the beautiful / dark and light keys.” When the young musician was eight, her family members had to flee their war-torn country and move to New York. In this foreign city she became a well-known child prodigy. Her skill and status provided her with traveling opportunities and an extraordinary chance: to play at the White House for President Lincoln, who was still grieving the death of his young son. There she plays joyfully and with improvisation, knowing that “her music / had brought comfort to a grieving family, / at least for one brief, wonderful evening / of dancing hands.” Engle’s writing shines through powerful descriptions and connections between music and feelings. López’s vivid illustrations expertly alternate between lush, vibrant hues, and gray, muted depictions of darker times; they evoke characters and historical settings with absorbing detail. A brief historical note with more facts about Carreño’s life is appended.

From the September/October 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Alicia K. Long
Alicia K. Long teaches multicultural materials for children and young adults at the University of South Florida--School of Information. She also presents family literacy and bilingual programs in public libraries, and maintains the young adult collection at the academic library where she works. She is the chair of the 2018 Pura Belpré Award committee.

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