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Piano Starts Here: The Young Art Tatum



Last updated Thursday, May 6, 2010

Author: Robert Andrew Parker
Date of Publication: 2008
ISBN: 0375839658
Grade Level: 2nd    (GLCs: Click here for grade level guidelines.)
Date(s) Used: Mar. 2010

Synopsis: *Starred Review* Parker, who illustrated Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan’s Sibert Honor Book Action Jackson (2002), contributes both words and pictures in this heartfelt portrait of jazz great Tatum. Parker pushes the limits of the book’s nonfiction cataloguing by speaking in the pianist’s first-person voice, but an author’s note and a solid bibliography set the episodes in a framework of established facts. The vibrant scenes, in Parker’s familiar style of scratched ink lines and watercolor washes, show young Tatum playing at home for his dancing parents, at church for a full choir, and at local clubs, where he is discovered and his international career begins. In some images, crowds of dancers and musicians create a swirl of animated motion; in others, Parker sets Tatum, who was nearly blind, against a deep, moody, abstract background of shifting colors. Throughout, the simple, direct language shows the power of the music for both Tatum and his listeners. “When I am at the piano . . . I play clouds of notes, rivers of notes . . . I forget that my eyes aren’t good. I have everything I need.” Cue up the music; children will best appreciate this beautiful tribute with an earful of Tatum at the keyboard. Grades 2-4. --Gillian Engberg

Note to readers:
•  Vocabulary:
•  rhythm
•  echo
•  vanish Read the biography about Art Tatum in the back of the book BEFORE you read with children. Then when you’ve finished reading the book, you can tell the children about him.
•  factory
•  weave
•  skylarks
•  rustling
•  tour

Discussion topics for before reading:
•  Do you know how to play an instrument?
•  Do you know anyone who plays an instrument?
•  Are there any instruments in your home?

Discussion topics for during/after reading:
•  Where is Toledo?
•  What’s a mechanic?
•  What do your parents do?
•  Do you sing at church?
•  What does he mean when he says he has “bad eyes”?
•  Do you know what a streetcar is?
•  Do you know what a lightning bug (firefly) is?
•  What is a player piano?
•  Why does he feel sad?

Craft ideas:
•  Make instruments—roll paper into cones for trumpets; paper plates filled with beans for tambourines; toilet paper rolls filled with beans for noise makers.
•  Draw a picture of your favorite song.
•  Play music and have the children draw while they listen—whatever the music “makes” them feel like drawing

*Note: These craft ideas are just suggestions. You can use them, but you don’t have to use them. You can expand upon them, or add your own twist. Remember, though, that the focus of your time should not be on the development and execution of a craft; the focus should be on the read-aloud and the enjoyment of the book!