Review: Dancing Hands by Margarita Engle

Dancing Hands How Teresa Carreno Played the Piano for President Lincoln by Margarita Engle

Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreno Played the Piano for President Lincoln by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael Lopez (9781481487405)

Teresa Carreno was a Venezuelan pianist who fled to the United States as a child when there was a revolution in her home country. But arriving in the U.S., there was a war here too, the Civil War was raging. Teresa used music to communicate, practicing her piano with a variety of musicians who came to her home. She played piano in enormous theaters as a child. Then, she was invited to play at the White House by President Abraham Lincoln. Teresa believed in the power of music, but how could it overcome the horrors of war and reach the heart of one of the most powerful men in the world, who had just lost his son. At the White House, Teresa found herself at a poorly-tuned piano and unable to start. When President Lincoln requested his favorite song, Teresa played it and improvised as well. Carreno went on to become world famous for her piano, composing and singing.

Engle embraces using poetic language in her picture books. Here, the moments of Carreno’s life come alive thanks to Engle’s language that uses metaphors often. Her metaphors will be well understood by children such as, “playing hymns that shimmered like hummingbirds” and “they stepped into a room so red that it looked like a storm o r a sunrise.” The effect is immersive and breathtaking.

Lopez’s illustrations are done in mixed media and assembled digitally. Dramatic moments such as the family fleeing Venezuela are done in deep colors that capture the mood and have layers of content to explore. Historical figures and Carreno herself have clear emotions that show the impact of her music.

A strong biography about a young girl with a tremendous gift. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum. 


Crossing Ebenezer Creek by Tonya Bolden

Crossing Ebenezer Creek by Tonya Bolden

Crossing Ebenezer Creek by Tonya Bolden (9781599903194, Amazon)

This novel looks at a piece of history that many people don’t know about. Mariah and her brother Zeke have been freed from slavery in Georgia as part of Sherman’s march. As she starts to realize that she may not have to return to the brutality she has lived in all of her life, Mariah begins to see new options for both her future and that of her brother. She is given a ride in a wagon by a young man Caleb who was raised in freedom. The two slowly begin to form a relationship with one another, born on their shared hope for the future and it being spent together. Still, there are soldiers and generals on the march who do not appreciate that the freed people are taking supplies from the military scavenging. Dangers continue to surround all of them as they make their steady way towards freedom.

Bolden writes in a poetic prose in this novel. She shares both the hope of freedom and the evils of slavery in the book. The horrors of slavery are offered with a frankness that allows them to fully be realized, each person having experienced their own personal hell. She makes sure to keep the tension high with the Rebels raiding the camps, pressures from within the northern forces, and the dangers of the march itself.

The relationship of Mariah and Caleb matches the pace of the march, steady and filled with bumps and revelations as well. It is a lovely lengthy courtship, given the space to blossom in a natural way that feels like the reader is falling in love along with them. The long journey gives them that time, even as the foreshadowing and dangers allow the reader to know they are not safe at all.

An important book on a little-known episode during the Civil War, this book is intensely personal and a dangerous mix of romance and horror. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Bloomsbury.

Review: Under the Freedom Tree by Susan

under the freedom tree

Under the Freedom Tree by Susan VanHecke, illustrated by London Ladd

Told in free verse, this picture book is the story of how the first contraband camp formed during the Civil War.  It all started with three runaway slaves who escaped across a river to a Union-held fort.  Though the Confederate Army tried to demand their return, the general at the fort declared them “contraband of war” and offered them protection and a place to live.  The three were quickly joined by a flood of people crossing the line into Union territory and they began to build a home for themselves near the fort.  The freedom tree is the Emancipation Oak which stood witness to the events that unfolded, including the Emancipation Proclamation, which set all of the residents of the camp free.

VanHecke’s verse is loose and beautiful.  She captures the danger the slaves faced in crossing the Confederate line, the risks they took asking for shelter, and the clever solution found by the general.  She offers an author’s note in prose to give more historical context to the camp and the Emancipation Oak. 

Ladd’s illustrations are lush and detailed.  His paintings capture the hope of emancipation, the darkness of escape by water and night, and the beauty of the oak.  The illustrations clearly honor the first three men who escaped to the fort, showing them as they wait for the judgment of whether they must return to slavery or not. 

A little-known part of the history of the Civil War, this book in verse pays homage to the courage of the men who created the contraband camp.  Appropriate for ages 6-10.

Reviewed from copy received from Charlesbridge.

Picture the Dead

Picture the Dead by Adele Griffin

After his death, Jennie had always felt the spirit of her twin brother near her.  Now her fiancé Will has died in the Civil War.  His brother, Quinn, has returned with injuries.  According to the army, Will died honorably in battle, but his brother tells a different story of prison and Will being a criminal.  Jennie seeks out the help of a spiritualist photographer, who takes the family’s picture and edits it by adding another image of an angle.  Jennie is not fooled, but soon she experiences things that she cannot explain.  Images of her are edited without anyone touching them, clues lead her deeper into a mystery, and time is running out as her place in Will’s family is threatened.  This paranormal, spiritualist mystery will have readers enthralled.

This book is so beautifully designed.  Lisa Brown’s illustrations take the book to another level, ensuring that readers are completely surrounded by Jennie’s world.  Jennie keeps a scrapbook and often takes small items to add to her book without the owners knowing.  As she adds these bits and pieces to her scrapbook, a series of visual clues start to emerge.  At the start of each chapter, readers will see items that will be added to the scrapbook in the next chapter.  This way each chapter starts with the clues and continues with the story itself.  This is an immensely entertaining way to read a book.

Griffin has created a book that lingers, slowly revealing its secrets.  The book is beautifully written.  Griffin has intertwined Jennie’s brother’s voice in the chapters, his advice for spies always right at hand when courage is needed.  Jennie is an intriguing protagonist who is multidimensional with her small thefts, desperation for a home, and ability to love two brothers.  It is her complexity that makes the book so fascinating.

Eerie, haunting and mysterious, this book is one that takes over your world.  Bright summer sun dims into streets at night, heat becomes a chill, breezes blow on still days.  Griffin and Brown have created a book that is an immersive experience that readers will not soon forget.

Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from copy received from Sourcebooks.

Check out other reviews at Bookalicious, Good Books & Wine, BookLust, Through the Looking Glass, Cindy’s Love of Books, and Poisoned Rationality.