THE PIANO

In this gentle story set in the early 1900s, music brings a young African-American girl and an elderly white woman together. Tia searches for the sounds of music as she wanders the streets of her southern town during the summer while her parents work. One day, in the white section of town she hears a recording that transports her to a place of castles and snow. She meets Johnny, who mistakenly thinks she has come about a maid’s job. Tia agrees to meet the woman of the house, who is willing to hire the young girl. Tia works hard and shows interest in learning to play the piano. Miss Hartwell, despite her stiff hands, begins to teach her. Miller (Night Golf, 1999, etc.) lightly touches on segregation and contrasts Tia’s caring attitude toward Miss Hartwell to Johnny’s—“All white people’s money is the same. I don’t care which I get it from”—but the story emphasizes a relationship that transcends age and class. Keeter’s oil paintings enhance the gentle mood. Two-page spreads make space for the pictures to illustrate the text and expand the setting. A scene showing Tia dancing to the music of a blues guitar in front of a general store also gives a picture of the poor part of town. Interior scenes of Miss Hartwell’s house give a sense of a well-to-do residence, while close ups of Tia and Miss Hartwell show the growing love between the two. A lovely book with an understated message. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: June 1, 2000

ISBN: 1-880000-98-9

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Lee & Low Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2000

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OTIS

From the Otis series

Continuing to find inspiration in the work of Virginia Lee Burton, Munro Leaf and other illustrators of the past, Long (The Little Engine That Could, 2005) offers an aw-shucks friendship tale that features a small but hardworking tractor (“putt puff puttedy chuff”) with a Little Toot–style face and a big-eared young descendant of Ferdinand the bull who gets stuck in deep, gooey mud. After the big new yellow tractor, crowds of overalls-clad locals and a red fire engine all fail to pull her out, the little tractor (who had been left behind the barn to rust after the arrival of the new tractor) comes putt-puff-puttedy-chuff-ing down the hill to entice his terrified bovine buddy successfully back to dry ground. Short on internal logic but long on creamy scenes of calf and tractor either gamboling energetically with a gaggle of McCloskey-like geese through neutral-toned fields or resting peacefully in the shade of a gnarled tree (apple, not cork), the episode will certainly draw nostalgic adults. Considering the author’s track record and influences, it may find a welcome from younger audiences too. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-399-25248-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2009

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Sweet, good-hearted fun.

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THE SOUR GRAPE

From the Food Group series

A recovering curmudgeon narrates life lessons in the latest entry in the punny Food Group series.

Grape wasn’t always sour, as they explain in this origin story. Grape’s arc starts with an idyllic childhood within “a close-knit bunch” in a community of “about three thousand.” The sweet-to-sour switch begins when Grape plans an elaborate birthday party to which no one shows up. Going from “sweet” to “bitter,” “snappy,” and, finally, “sour,” Grape “scowled so much that my face got all squishy.” Minor grudges become major. An aha moment occurs when a run of bad luck makes Grape three hours late for a meetup with best friend Lenny, who’s just as acidic as Grape. After the irate lemon storms off, Grape recognizes their own behavior in Lenny. Alone, Grape begins to enjoy the charms of a lovely evening. Once home, the fruit browses through a box of memorabilia, discovering that the old birthday party invitation provided the wrong date! “I realized nobody’s perfect. Not even me.” Remaining pages reverse the downturn as Grape observes that minor setbacks are easily weathered when the emphasis is on talking, listening, and working things out. Oswald’s signature illustrations depict Grape and company with big eyes and tiny limbs. The best sight gag occurs early: Grape’s grandparents are depicted as elegant raisins. The lessons are as valuable as in previous outings, and kids won’t mind the slight preachiness. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

Sweet, good-hearted fun. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-304541-5

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2022

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