Biographies are an important part of the books available for young history readers. Piano Starts Here: The Young Art Tatum, by Robert Andrew Parker, tells the story of someone I am embarrassed to say I had never heard of. But that is the magic of the story—I was drawn in from the first page and found myself thinking about Art Tatum for weeks. I went to websites to explore his music and was completely amazed that this jazz pianist, mostly self-taught and nearly blind since birth, found the prominence he did. Written in the first person and illustrated in Parker's familiar filmy watercolors outlined with pen, this biography reveals the author's obvious admiration for his subject. From the time Tatum started playing in clubs in 1926 at the age of 16, his short life spanned the heyday of the Jazz Age through the mid-1950s. Parker's telling makes it all so alive that it is hard not to want to know more. Children often ignore the end matter that is so important in books, but I hope they will read about the author and Tatum in the fascinating endnotes. For the child or adult who has a passion, whether musical or not, and is inspired by others who follow their passions, this would be a welcome gift. Copyright 2008 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2008 #2
Acclaimed illustrator Parker proves he has a gift with language as well -- and with music. In a first-person text, lightly fictionalized, Parker introduces Tatum as a toddler who begins to play his mother's piano as soon as he can reach the keys. Nearly blind from birth, Art is captivated by the sounds and smells around him. Unable join the active games of his peers, he spends most of his time at the piano, where hard work and an outstanding memory for melody plant the seeds of his prodigious talent. Parker excels at showing the young musician's gift for improvising, as when he hears his friends playing outside and settles down to embellish their games with song after song of background music. Like Tatum's compositions, Parker's text is vibrant and immediate. He pulls off the tricky present-tense narration by infusing it with a brisk and varied jazz-like rhythm, subtle internal rhyme, and well-placed word repetition. It's no surprise that the pen-and-watercolor illustrations are masterfully executed, showing deeply saturated colors in the backgrounds and people drawn with great gestural energy. Parker's paintings provide mood and tone like no one else's, but sometimes it's difficult to tell how much time has elapsed: in the pictures Art is usually shown at a piano so we can't see how he's grown, and his simply drawn features vary, making his age amorphous. Luckily, there is plenty of information at the back, in the form of a bibliography, a bit about Parker's own experiences with Tatum and his music, and a biographical note that fills in any gaps in the timeline. Copyright 2008 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2007 December #2
Renowned illustrator Parker supplies both an affecting text and luminescent watercolors in homage to the virtuosic Tatum. Blending information and imagination, the plainspoken, first-person-present text examines the jazz pianist's childhood and musical development, progressing from school and church functions to Toledo bars, the club circuit and New York. Parker's phrases perfectly correlate with his subject: Early details merit short simple declaratives ("This is my father. He's a mechanic."), while Tatum's near-blindness obviates evocations of sounds and smells rather than sights: "I love our church--the way it smells like soap, furniture polish, and flowers; the way footstep sounds echo off the walls." Ink-lined watercolors revel in as resplendent an interplay of hue and tone as Tatum's improvisations. Sunny childhood scenes (a charming spot depicts toddler Arthur, playing the family piano on tiptoe) yield to clubs' sultry blue light. Gorgeous abstract washes dial Tatum's legendary extemporizations. Fusing Parker's artistic talent and passion for jazz (he's a musician, too), this sensitively embellished biography is totally on time. (author's and biographical notes, bibliography of adult sources) (Picture book/biography. 5-10) Copyright Kirkus 2007 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Library Media Connection Reviews 2008 April/May
From the day he could reach the piano keys, Art Tatum knew that in spite of being almost blind, music would complete his life. Tatum relies on the love of his mother, the support of his father, and his heightened senses to develop his love for music. He is a self-taught musician, playing for birthday parties and church at a young age. Told as if readers were paging through a photo album with Tatum sharing commentary, they hear what his daily life was like, always playing his fantastic piano. In this gentle and friendly picture book, Caldecott Honor illustrator Robert Andrew Parker introduces very young musicians to a jazz great. Readers learn that a supportive family and community are just as important to one's talent development as practice. The illustrations are dreamy, washed watercolors that center on Tatum and the other family members. Even the illustrations showing his later life are centered on people. Parker includes notes about how Tatum's life influenced his own, more facts about Tatum's life, and a bibliography. This is a satisfying and assuring book about family, music, self-esteem, and overcoming physical disabilities that begs to be shared. Recommended. Melinda Elzinga, Young People's Librarian, Boulder (Colorado) Country Day School Â© 2008 Linworth Publishing, Inc.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2007 December #4
Parker, who illustrated Ballet of the Elephants and Action Jackson , makes his writing debut with a biography of famed jazz pianist Art Tatum, which takes some creative license in its straightforward, first-person narrative. "Bad eyes can't keep me from playing the piano," says a young Tatum. "My hands get to know the keys, the short black ones on top and long white ones below. I play more and more. And more." The uncluttered storytelling offers a chronological journey of Tatum's rise to fame: his first recital in church; a night of playing moon-themed songs while neighborhood children catch fireflies; his first gig at a bar. From the twins next door who help him walk to school to a caf owner who lets him use his player piano, the story incorporates the people who were important in Tatum's early life--his hardworking parents, foremost. A subtle sophistication shines through Parker's easygoing yet dynamic watercolors. Roughly hewn sketch lines give the characters an almost abstract quality, but their faces and gestures project emotion nonetheless, as in vignettes of a bartender smiling contentedly or Tatum's mother sitting in the shadows by a radio, both listening to Tatum play. Parker's unhurried account could inspire visions of jazz greatness among young musicians. Ages 4-8. (Jan.)[Page 55]. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
K-Gr 4-- Breathing life into words about music for young children is never easy, but Parker makes it appear effortless. Perhaps this is due, in part, to his own understandings as a jazz musician. His first-person account about the early years of Tatum's life is a feast for the senses. Beautifully paced, spare sentences accompany introductory watercolors of the legendary jazz pianist's family. Viewers watch the toddler on tiptoe reaching for the keys that provided delight to him from this early stage. As the narrative develops and Tatum's impaired vision begins to fade, the lines lengthen, incorporating the sounds, smells, and physical sensations that were much clearer to him. Listeners can imagine the scents of furniture polish and flowers as the boy plays in church or the vibration of his father's footsteps as he dances to his son's music in the living room. Parker's palette and style vary to create just the right ambience, with compositions ranging from a brightly lit snowscape with realistic figures racing down the path to moody, impressionistic backgrounds swirling around Tatum playing his beloved "Humoresque" on the road as a young man. Notes from the author describe his personal encounter with the musician and provide an overview of his life. A bibliography of adult resources is included; there is little available for children. Showcase this title with Chris Raschka's Charlie Parker Played Be Bop (Scholastic, 1992) and Andrea Davis Pinkney's Ella Fitzgerald (Hyperion, 2002) along with some CDs for a joint-jumping, heart-pumping ride.--Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library[Page 108]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.