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My Friend the Piano


What child can resist a piano? Though the symphony pounded out by some young musicians may sound more like noise to adults, it will always be music to the kid who is playing it. MY FRIEND THE PIANO takes a fresh and funny look at the differences between adult and child sensibilities.

When a piano which loves to play "symphonies" but refuses to practice is sold for use as a storage chest, it escapes with the help of a child and ...

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What child can resist a piano? Though the symphony pounded out by some young musicians may sound more like noise to adults, it will always be music to the kid who is playing it. MY FRIEND THE PIANO takes a fresh and funny look at the differences between adult and child sensibilities.

When a piano which loves to play "symphonies" but refuses to practice is sold for use as a storage chest, it escapes with the help of a child and plunges into the sea.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
For this fantasy adventure of a musical instrument with a will of its own, Cowan (My Life with the Wave) taps into the classic experience of learning to play the piano, to the whimsical accompaniment of Hawkes's (The Poombah of Badoombah) full-bleed acrylic paintings. An unnamed narrator likes to bang away at the piano, which for her makes exquisite music ("At times the piano wept. At other times it shrieked with laughter"), but to her mother produces only cacophony. Despite all the girl's efforts to practice scales, plus repeated visits from the piano tuner, the narrator cannot perform well enough to please her mother. As the woman endeavors to rid the house of the piano, the girl helps her friend escape to the sea. In the beginning pages, Cowan get mired in wordy explanations, and never really develops the friendship between the girl and her piano before readers get caught up in the wild getaway ride. Instead, readers depend on Hawkes's dynamic personification of the instrument to carry them through: the piano sprouts purple bristles when the girl plays what her mother dictates; when it flees, its legs course through the streets like the limbs of a racehorse. While this may strike a familiar chord with fledgling pianists, the story may not be strong enough to carry them through to the final notes. Ages 5-8. (Sept.)
Children's Literature - Judy Chernak
A piano is bought; a piano is played; musical passion is unleashed for the child in the story. But somehow Mother doesn't appreciate these symphonies, which she calls noise. Proper lessons must be begun. And then the piano refuses to play. Neither a tuner, nor Mother herself, nor putting the obstinate piano up for sale will produce the smallest sound. Only the "symphonies" will this piano play. Mother decrees the piano must go, and our story now segues into a take-off on the famous "The Red Carpet" tale as the runaway piano takes its fate into its own hands. A sure favorite with anyone who knows anything about pianos, or any sort of music lessons at all. Hawkes' pictures are zany and joyful with an offbeat perspective that matches the rollicking story to a "T."
Children's Literature - Donna P. Kalloch
The piano in this story seems to have a will of its own. It does not stay in tune for anyone but the little girl who loves it. In her mind's eye, she is the only one that it will play for properly. She cannot seem to play it normally, as her mother instructs her to; she can only make up her own music, or 'noise' as her mother calls it. The language in the story does not seem suited for children who are the target audience; it could be appropriate for high school kids, but the plot would probably not agree with them. The illustrations are bright and colorful, but unfortunately the story is a little too dark and gloomy.
School Library Journal
K-Gr 3--A story about childhood creativity that seems to be told from an adult perspective. When a child begins to "compose" on the family piano, Mother insists that the youngster learn how to play and stop making noise. The lessons don't go well, and Mother decides that the instrument must go. A woman agrees to take it, intending to turn it into a storage chest. While helping Father move it, the child climbs onboard and calls out directions, leading the instrument on a wild ride that culminates in a swan dive into the sea. The last page shows the piano swimming and making music with the dolphins. The book starts out as a reminiscence of a treasured relationship between the child and the piano, but the story is soon overwhelmed by the animosity that develops between the child and the mother, who has no patience for or appreciation of this young musician's creativity. Hawkes's illustrations, acrylic paints on paper, show an anthropomorphized piano that expresses joy when the child composes, terror while being tuned, and grim determination while making its getaway. The paintings are disproportionate and garish with the piano's keys seeming more like teeth than inviting ivory playmates. This is an interesting premise that results in a less-than-inspired finished product. Spare yourself from this ode to being different and recommend instead David Shannon's A Bad Case of Stripes (Scholastic, 1998).--Susan M. Moore, Louisville Free Public Library, KY
Asimov's Science Fiction
...[A] story that will appeal to anyone ever forced to endure music lessons seemingly designed to stifle creativity rather than encourage it.
Kirkus Reviews
A girl discovers the piano and starts composing in this entry from Cowan (My Life With the Wave), a very loose adaptation of a story by An¡bal Menterio Machado. Although the piano and the girl are clearly soul mates, what is music to the girl's ears is poison to her mother's: "That is not playing. It's noise." The mother orders lessons, but both girl and piano balk at the routine and the stifling of their creativity. The practice sessions are flat or sharp or atonal, never fun or successful. When it looks as if a grandmother is going to come to live with them, the mother puts the piano up for sale, but it misbehaves for prospective buyers. Indeed, the piano, as a piano, can't be given away; the woman who claims it plans to turn it into stripped and painted storage. The piano literally bristles at this outrage; Hawkes has ably and elegantly shaped the artwork for this book, in perfect concord with Cowan's words. In the process of delivering the pianoþthe girl and her father are rolling it to its fateþthe instrument, with the girl on top, makes its escape into the wide blue sea (she jumps off at the last minute). The piano serenades the girl with symphonies carried to the shore on breezes from distant climes while she composes "for pots and pans," a musical undertaking that serves those wretched parents right. (Picture book. 5-9)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780688132392
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/1/1998
  • Pages: 32
  • Age range: 5 - 8 Years
  • Product dimensions: 9.56 (w) x 11.44 (h) x 0.36 (d)

Meet the Author

In her Own Words...

"Igrew up in a valley four miles from Jollyville, Texas (outside of Austin), where I attended first grade in a threeroom school. Friends and playmates, other than my brother and sister, were rare. Since we didn't have television, I entertained myself. Any movie, comic book, or old Nalional Geographic" fed my imagination with stories.

"Books were time-travel machines carrying me around the world and into other lives. I took what I read, then changed it, adding different characters to make the stories my own. I played these out with homemade paper dolls. At the end of the day, my characters were swept into a box and hidden away so that no one would find them and laugh at me.

"The only hint that I might one day write came while I lay sick, whining over my inability to do the things I dreamed of. My mother suggested I could write. Then I could do whatever I wanted without ever leaving my bed. That was not what I had in mind. I wanted to have the kind of wild adventures that another sickly child, Robert Louis Stevenson, wrote about.

"Among my favorite books were Bambi, The Jungle Book, and The Wind in the Willows—all with friendly animals. Living in the country, I heard foxes and raccoons kill our chickens. Even gathering eggs could be frightening. Chicken snakes, swollen with swallowed eggs, often lay coiled in dark nests. I decided to tame the wild world and bring it inside to live. I tried rabbits, snakes, hawks, and a fox, but discovered that wild things do best in the wild, just as waves are best left in the ocean.

"When other children ran outside to play, I hung around listening to the grown-ups. One day, my grandfather offered to tell me about when he and his brother went to the Klondike, or the time they drove cattle from Texas to the Dakotas. I was thrilled. Until my grandmother said, "That child doesn't want to hear your old tales." Later, when traveling, I found myself searching for his lost stories.

"What I wanted to do with my life changed depending upon the day, the month, and year. I planned to run a museum, raise angora goats, be a composer, play the violin, dig for lost civilizations, work in a zoo, sail around the world, save the planet from humanity, explore the Amazon basin, collect unknown orchid species, be a photographer, and drive from Alaska to the tip of South America.

"It wasn't until after I had graduated from college that I began to write. Then, needing to earn a living, I became an accountant. That didn't last. Encouraged by my husband, Carl, I escaped and returned to writing.

"As a child, I liked pretending I was grown. But now that I'm grown, I like nothing better than pretending I'm a child again."

Kevin Hawkes is the illustrator of more than thirty-five acclaimed picture books and chapter books, including the New York Times bestseller Library Lion, Weslandia, and Sidewalk Circus. He lives with his charming wife and children in southern Maine, where he is often found wandering aimlessly in his garden. Possibly wearing a woolly red hat.

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