Reviews for Piano Man


Booklist Monthly Selections - #2 February 1998
Ages 5^-8. In this first-person picture book, an African American girl tells the story of her grandfather, who played piano in a silent movie theater, a Broadway theater, a medicine show, and vaudeville. After marrying a vaudeville dancer, he played in movie theaters again until the talkies came along, then tuned pianos for a living. Years later, the piano man's granddaughter loves to turn on a television western with the volume low and listen to him play piano "and hammer out his memories of the old silent picture shows." Velasquez's artwork sweeps the somewhat adult story along, and his subtle characterization of faces gives warmth and individuality to the main characters and often to figures in crowd scenes as well. The jacket art shows the piano man with a disconcertingly modern-looking daughter (confusingly, the narrator's mother), but most of the pictures nicely reflect the various periods of his life. Students assigned to interview their grandparents for family history will find this an appealing starting point. ((Reviewed February 15, 1998)) Copyright 2000 Booklist Reviews

----------------------
Horn Book Guide Reviews 1998
The piano man's granddaughter proudly relates his pianistic triumphs in silent-film accompaniment, on Broadway, in medicine shows and vaudeville, and, after the talkies took over, in piano tuning. This is a heartening slice of African-American family history that is refreshingly short on role-modeling and long on joy and visual glamour, as provided by the beautiful glossy woods of Grandfather's pianos.Copyright 1998 Horn Book Guide Reviews

----------------------
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 1998 #2
Banks and Hallensleben's third collaboration continues to pay homage to the creations of Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd. While the playful exchanges between mother and child in their previous Spider Spider and Baboon recall the interaction in The Runaway Bunny, this new work evokes the powerful bedtime magic of Goodnight Moon. The opening scene finds a young child in a large but cozy room filled with familiar objects, immediately conjuring up the "great green room." "Somewhere a pair of shoes lies under a chair," begins the text, just as "there was a telephone / And a red balloon..." in the famous bunny's bedroom. (There is a bunny here, too, though it is the stuffed companion of a human child.) But then Banks's book makes a grand departure from its honored predecessor: "a window yawns open," and the book soars out and beyond the bedroom to take in the vast world-"if the moon could talk, it would tell of evening stealing through the woods and a lizard scurrying home to supper." The following spread returns to the warm, safe bedroom, and the story continues to alternate in that fashion. Small things from the child's home are reflected in kind in the world outside: a light flicks on in the hallway, "and if the moon could talk, it would tell of stars flaring up one by one and a small fire burning by a tree"; a wooden boat and a starfish sit on the nightstand, and the moon shines down on "waves washing onto the beach, shells, and a crab resting." Hallensleben's breathtaking impressionistic paintings portray distinctive settings not specified in the simple, poetic text: a man drives cattle through the square of a Spanish-style village; sailboats bob in a tropical harbor; a farmhouse nestles below luminous blue-white mountains. Each view of the world outside relates back to the sleepy child-as Mama tucks her in, a lioness settles her cubs-emphasizing the child's connectedness to all things. Finally, and most satisfyingly, the focus returns to the little girl's bedroom: "if the moon could talk, it would tell of a child curled up in bed wrapped in sleep," and-in a last twist on Brown's lullaby-"it would murmur, Good night." Hallensleben's rich, luxuriant palette moves adeptly in and out of the home. The child's room-always surrounded by a safely confining border until she falls asleep-is filled with warm, bright primary colors, while the outside world is depicted in full-bleed in more natural, subdued tones. The nighttime scenes are perfect for exhibiting the artist's remarkable range of blues and his talented use of light, especially notable in the village scene on the stunning endpapers. As in Baboon, Banks's rhythmic text subtly conveys the theme of a great and wondrous world while never sacrificing the comfort and security of parental love. Perhaps Brown would approve of her theories on the everyday experiences of the child being applied to the more global vision of today. Regardless, Banks and Hallensleben deserve high praise for creating a classic picture book of the highest caliber. l.a. Copyright 1999 Horn Book Magazine Reviews

----------------------
Publishers Weekly Reviews 1997 November #4
Chocolate (On the Day I Was Born) looked no further than her own backyard for this lively and affectionate tribute to her grandfather. Told from the girl's point of view and spanning three generations, the picture book reprises a versatile African American musician's career, from his salad days working as an accompanist for silent movies, where "he'd play romping chords to the thriller-diller chase scenes flashing across the big silver screen," to the Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway, a ragtime road show and vaudeville, where he met and married a dancer. Steeped in nostalgia, the story unfolds like a short film, with black-bordered pages mimicking freeze frames from a movie reel. Velasquez's exuberant, realistic paintings follow the thread of family life, tracing the ties that bind father to daughter to granddaughter as well as offering a window on a bygone era. Bittersweet moments, such as the day "talkies" arrived and piano players were suddenly out of work, keep the story from slipping into the saccharine; poignant moments, such as the day the girl's mother purchased the old movie house piano for her grandfather's 75th birthday, lend it genuine tenderness. In a final fade-out, the old man plays accompaniment to a TV cowboy movie with the sound turned down, to the delight of his granddaughter. This vivid picture of America's past may well prompt discussions of the nation's history as well as family roots. Ages 5-8. (Feb.) Copyright 1998 Publishers Weekly Reviews

----------------------
School Library Journal Reviews 1998 January
K-Gr 3?Chocolate adds to her list of books on African and African-American themes with a fictional memoir drawn from her own family history. "My grandfather," begins her narrative, "played piano for the silent movies." He played on Broadway for the Follies and sang and danced in vaudeville. When marriage and family ended his days on the road and silent movies turned into talkies, he became a piano tuner. His greatest joy in his last years was to play the old upright piano bought by his daughter from the theater he once filled with music. Bright red theater curtains on the endpapers set the stage for the series of well-designed, realistic, double-spread paintings in acrylic with pencil cross-hatching, which bring the past to life. Warm, vibrant earth tones enliven the text. But central to the story, and the key to its enjoyment by young readers today, is the narrator's memories of a beloved grandfather, a warm family, and a black community happily entertained by early films and ragtime music.?Shirley Wilton, Ocean County College, Toms River, NJ

----------------------