Book cover of Dancing Hands by Margarita Engle and Rafael López

Reinberger Review: “Dancing Hands”

Engle, M. (text) & López, R. (illus.). (2019). Dancing hands: How Teresa Carreño played the piano for President Lincoln. Atheneum Books for Young Readers. 32 pages.

Audience: Grades PreK-3

Review By:
Kayla Hlad (she/her)
MLIS Student, Kent State University iSchool

This biographical picturebook is a celebration of Teresa Carreño’s early triumphant musical journey and reads as an ode to the magical power of music itself. The story builds to Carreño’s famous concert for President Lincoln at the White House in 1863 when she was just a child. But the journey includes many of the light and dark moments along the way that created the foundation for her relationship with music. Stops include her introduction to music and piano in her childhood home, an outbreak of war that causes her family to leave their homeland of Venezuela, her family’s experience as refugees in the U.S., and the destructive impact of the American civil war.

Engle brings energy and lyric to Teresa’s biography with heavy use of poetic language, strong adjectives, and detailed descriptions of settings that engage multiple senses. This 2020 winner of the Pura Belpré Youth Illustrator Award excels in illustration as well. Lopez’s use of theatrical colors and the dichotomy between watercolor’s boundless shapes and acrylic’s crisp lines to create opposing moods is highly effective. Without hearing a note, readers vividly experience the emotion, beauty, and power behind Carreño’s music on every page.

This is an excellent cross-disciplinary read-aloud for the classroom. It can easily fit into a social studies unit on the civil war or immigration, a language arts unit on biographies or poetic language, or in a music class to explore the aspect of mood. At the same time, the poignant illustrations, rhythmic language, and uplifting tone makes this a great selection for family storytimes at the library. Consider following the book up with a recording of one of Teresa Carreño’s compositions and leaving some time for music exploration, whether with egg shakers, bells, or more elaborate instruments.

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