The Little Piano Girl
written by Ann Ingalls & Maryann McDonald; illustrated by Giselle Potter
(Houghton Mifflin Books for Children) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library
"She is like soul on soul" - Duke Ellington
Jazz legend Mary Lou Williams was three years old when her mother discovered that Mary Lou could play back a tune on the family organ. Soon Mary Lou was spending all of her time at the keyboard. However, when the family moved to Pittsburgh, the organ was left behind. Life in Pittsburgh was not easy for Mary Lou. Being new, it was hard to fit in and several neighbors were less than welcoming. Mary Lou labeled the "ugly names and cruel words" as "bad sounds" and simply played them out on the tabletop. Even without a keyboard, music was still vital to Mary Lou. How she was reintroduced to the keyboard is not exactly known, but one story credits a neighbor named Lucille who brought Mary Lou to her home for ice cream.
While eating ice cream, Mary Lou spied a piano in the corner. Lucille asked her to play and was blown away by Mary Lou's talent. After that, she was playing for neighbors and eventually to all of Pittsburgh and the world. Mary Lou Williams was instrumental in helping develop the talent of other jazz greats like Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, and Dizzy Gillespie. The Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture is located at Duke University and the 15th annual Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival was recently held at the Kennedy Center. Here is a sample of Mary Lou's music:
The Little Piano Girl shines a light on an important figure in jazz. It is also a book that is full of similes that would be helpful in teaching figurative language. Another lesson would be to discuss how Mary Lou handled the name calling and discouragement that came her way when she moved to Pittsburgh.
Another review of The Little Piano Girl from The HappyNappy Bookseller.