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

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

by Ann Ingalls, Giselle Potter, Maryann Macdonald
     
 

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What if you loved music more than anything? 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 feel better? Mary Lou Williams, like Mozart, began playing

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Overview

What if you loved music more than anything? 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 feel 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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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.)
Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
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
Kirkus Reviews
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-naif, 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)
From the Publisher

"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

"Potter's naive, doll-like figures, poised in their slightly tipsy, extravagantly patterned domestic settings, recall the mannered portraiture of the colonial period. With a steadily growing collection of picture books on jazz greats now available for the storytime set, it's nice to see a strong female musician take her place on the shelves."—Bulletin

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780547528342
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
01/18/2010
Sold by:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
32
Lexile:
AD690L (what's this?)
File size:
26 MB
Note:
This product may take a few minutes to download.
Age Range:
6 - 9 Years

Meet the Author

Ann Ingalls and Maryann Macdonald are sisters and lifelong music lovers. Ann lives in Kansas City, and Maryann lives in New York. This is Ann's first book, and Maryann's twenty-second.

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