Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln

by Margarita Engle (Author) Rafael Lopez (Illustrator)

Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln
Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade

In soaring words and stunning illustrations, Margarita Engle and Rafael López tell the story of Teresa Carreño, a child prodigy who played piano for Abraham Lincoln.

As a little girl, Teresa Carreño loved to let her hands dance across the beautiful keys of the piano. If she felt sad, music cheered her up, and when she was happy, the piano helped her share that joy. Soon she was writing her own songs and performing in grand cathedrals. Then a revolution in Venezuela forced her family to flee to the United States. Teresa felt lonely in this unfamiliar place, where few of the people she met spoke Spanish. Worst of all, there was fighting in her new home, too--the Civil War.

Still, Teresa kept playing, and soon she grew famous as the talented Piano Girl who could play anything from a folk song to a sonata. So famous, in fact, that President Abraham Lincoln wanted her to play at the White House! Yet with the country torn apart by war, could Teresa's music bring comfort to those who needed it most?

Publishers Weekly

In the dark days of the Civil War, a girl named Teresa Carreño sat down at a badly tuned piano to play for a special audience: Abraham Lincoln and his family. This book tells the story of how a young refugee from Venezuela comforted the grieving president with her music. Music helps Carreño express her feelings and cope with her family's emigration to the U.S.--"Without a new piano, Teresa would have felt even more lonely.... Teresa practiced... her strong hands accepting the challenges of life's many dark and light moods." Her reputation as a prodigy leads to an invitation at the White House. Intimidated, she tries her best--"the memory of meeting past challenges now helped her fingers dance." López's swirling colors, soaring birds, and scattered notes conjure music's transportive powers amid the countries' war-torn landscapes, complementing Engle's text, and building "hymns... shimmered like hummingbirds." Ages 4-8. (Aug.)

Copyright 2019 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

PreS-Gr 2--Teresa Carreño achieved global fame as a performer, composer, pianist, and opera singer. By the age of six, she was composing. At the age of seven, she began performing. Revolution in Venezuela forced the Carreño family to migrate to New York, an unfamiliar place where few people spoke Spanish and her family felt out of place. But war would follow them--in 1863 the United States was in the midst of the Civil War. At the age of 10, Carreño was invited to play for President Abraham Lincoln and his family at the White House. But will a poorly tuned piano diminish her performance? This is a story of overcoming fear and using one's talents to spark joy despite unforeseen obstacles. Author and illustrator are well paired in this interesting narrative. Darks and lights, whether representing world events or the colors of the piano keys, are recurring themes that Engle cleverly entwines in her at times poetic writing. López's illustrations practically leap from the page as they mirror the tone of events--bright and beautiful when the story is light; dark, drab, and gray when echoing conflict. A historical note in the back matter provides slightly more insight, but Engle's writing occasionally seems to take liberties with individual characters' thoughts and emotions with little supporting evidence. VERDICT Despite the efficacy of the author and illustrator collaboration, the historical facts remain somewhat sketchy throughout the narrative. A gentle title to add cultural insight to any collection, though possibly best for larger budgets.--Rebecca Gueorguiev, New York Public Library

Copyright 2019 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.
Margarita Engle
Margarita Engle fue la Poeta Juvenil Laureada del Poetry Foundation y recibió el Premio 2019 de NSK Neistadt. Es la autora cubano-americana de muchas novelas en verso, entre las que se incluyen La tierra al vuelo; Con una estrella en la mano; El árbol de la rendición, ganador del premio de honor Newbery; y El soñador del relámpago. Su libro de memorias en verso, Aire encantado, recibió el premio Pura Belpré, la medalla de honor de Walter Dean Myers y fue finalista del premio YALSA a la excelencia en no-ficción, entre otros. Su libro ilustrado Una niña, un tambor, un sueño recibió el premio Charlotte Zolotow. Margarita nació en Los Ángeles, pero se apegó mucho a la tierra de su madre durante los veranos que pasó en su infancia en compañía de su familia. Continúa visitando Cuba tan frecuentemente como puede. Visítala en MargaritaEngle.com.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Publication date
August 20, 2019
Age Range
5 - 8 years

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