Pitch Perfect and Persistent!: The Musical Debut of Amy Cheney Beach

by Caitlin Delems (Author) Alison Jay (Illustrator)

Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade

Discover the untold yet inspiring story of Amy Beach, musician extraordinaire and the first successful woman composer in America.

With perfect pitch and fierce persistence, Amy Beach always knew she had to make music. There was just one BIG problem. Her mother believed it was not proper or suitable for a young lady to draw attention to herself, let alone take on a musical career. But give in or give up? Not Amy Beach. She demanded to play the piano. Demanded to have a real teacher. Demanded to perform. Luckily--for the world!--Amy's persistence paid off. At just sixteen years old, Amy Beach found herself on the stage of Boston's Music Hall--and the start of a brilliant career. A female composer who paved the way--perfectly!

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Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review
A profile of the early life of a 19th-century musical prodigy... carefully chosen details paint a portrait of a remarkable young person.


Paired with Jay's vibrant illustrations, with a cracked-paint-like texture that pops off the page like paintings of the period, this lively tale will introduce young readers to a new and important historical figure who--in ways such as playing by ear or memory to linking colors with sounds--proves a truly remarkable figure. This charming introduction to Beach's life and career is explored in further historical detail in the extensive back matter.

Publishers Weekly

In a picture book exploration of the childhood of composer and musician Amy Cheney Beach (1867-1944), DeLems spotlights a barrier-breaking feminist in the male-dominated 19th-century music industry. Growing up in a musical New Hampshire household, Cheney Beach early on exhibits characteristics of a musical prodigy--talents that alarm her traditionalist mother. Finally relenting to their daughter's begging, the Cheneys allow their daughter to study piano, hoping the skill will help her find a husband. Ambitious Cheney Beach has no intention of settling, however, and as her excellent piano playing attracts attention, she resolves to defy convention by performing on stage. DeLems focuses on Cheney Beach's childhood through her stage debut, energizing detail-rich text with interspersed staccato sentences and all-caps emphasis, while Jay's crackled illustrations establish the mood of her rural upbringing through earth-toned paintings. Copious back matter discusses Cheney Beach's marriage and career as a composer. Ages 7-10. (Mar.)

Copyright 2023 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

Gr 2-5--A cheery picture book biography about Amy Cheney Beach, a white 19th-century musician who was composing songs before she turned two years old. Born into a middle-class New England family in 1867, Beach longed to play her mother's piano. Her conservative parents forbade her to perform and play in public. But the little girl couldn't contain her love of music and persisted in composing. Eventually, her tenacity won out, and Beach was able to take piano lessons, perform at recitals, and debut at the Boston Hall of Music at 16. She went on to publish her first symphony not long after and became the first American woman to receive widespread acclaim as a composer of a large-scale work for orchestra. DeLems shares Beach's accomplishments with a sprightly text. Jay's signature artwork illuminates the young woman's rise to fame with bright yellows and sky blues. The lively narrative and images combine to give a rambunctious feel to the work. An author's note, time line, period photos, musical glossary, and bibliography are included in the back matter. Readers will be inspired by her verve and dedication. VERDICT A joyous picture book biography about a little known, gifted female musician, that would make a great choice for most nonfiction shelves.--Shelley M. Diaz

Copyright 2023 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

"The greatest American musician of the late 19th century was . . . a girl? Yes indeed! The extraordinary Amy Cheney Beach comes to vivid life in this fabulous picture-book biography. With charm, humor, and honesty, Caitlin DeLems writes the story that needs to be shared with children and adults alike. Against all odds, the genius of Amy Beach triumphed over the challenges of her time, societal constraints, and prejudice. Why did I have to wait until I was in my twenties to learn about this astonishing musician? Thanks to Caitlin DeLems and artist Alison Jay, youngsters can now discover the amazing Amy Beach and be inspired to follow their dream."—JoAnn Falletta, Music Director, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

"This delightful book will introduce young readers to the brilliant American composer Amy Beach. Carefully researched, as well as full of fun and whimsy, this book provides insight into her growth and work as a musician. Amy Beach is brought to life through beautiful illustrations, engaging prose, and quotations. And the end matter encourages readers to visit historical sites or learn more about Beach and her illustrious career." —Liane Curtis, PhD, President, Women's Philharmonic Advocacy
Caitlin Delems
Debut author Caitlin DeLems enjoys playing piano and violin and the magic of symphony concert halls. She delights in the discovery of unknown and determined female artists who are role models for young girls. Caitlin's second picture book biography--on another little-known woman composer--is forthcoming. Caitlin lives with her husband in the California Sierra Nevadas.

Alison Jay has been drawing and painting since she was a child. She is the illustrator of many picture books, including A Lady Has the Floor and The Pig War. Her signature style is created using alkyd paint on thick cartridge paper, with a crackle varnish, giving an aged effect.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Calkins Creek Books
Publication date
March 20, 2023
BISAC categories
JNF007040 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Music
JNF023000 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Girls & Women
JNF036020 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Music | History
Library of Congress categories
Picture books
United States
Women composers
Beach, Amy

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