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THE PIANO MAN by Debbi Chocolate


by Debbi Chocolate, illustrated by Eric Velasquez

Age Range: 5 - 8

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8027-8646-4
Publisher: Walker

 Chocolate (Kente Colors, 1996, etc.) refers to her grandfather as the man behind this story, but this memory piece about a pianist in the days of silent films and vaudeville comes with the standard disclaimer--that all the characters and events are fictitious. A narrator talks about her grandfather, who gave the audiences of silent movies the appropriate thrills with his piano music, teamed up for dancing with his wife, and then returned to the movie theater when his daughter was born. It's an appealing story, but young readers won't make much sense of Florenz Ziegfeld, Jelly Roll Morton, and Scott Joplin's cameo appearances. The text is flawed by an anachronism--Phantom of the Opera was not produced as a musical until 1943, so a pianist would not have played themes from it to accompany silent movies--as well as a musical improbability. Joplin would not have encouraged a ``lightning-fast Maple Leaf Rag,'' since this most famous of his pieces was the one most often butchered by the ``speed'' players of his day, and he customarily published this warning at the head of his composition: ``Notice! Don't play this piece fast. It is never right to play `rag-time' fast.'' Velasquez provides expressive but flawed paintings, e.g., in one scene, the black piano keys are grouped incorrectly, and in another, the tuba player's arm and the trumpet's valves are missing. For such a charming story, it's unfortunate that so many of these details are wrong. (Picture book. 5-8)