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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A lesson that never grows old, enacted with verve by two favorite friends

WAITING IS NOT EASY!

From the Elephant & Piggie series

Gerald the elephant learns a truth familiar to every preschooler—heck, every human: “Waiting is not easy!”

When Piggie cartwheels up to Gerald announcing that she has a surprise for him, Gerald is less than pleased to learn that the “surprise is a surprise.” Gerald pumps Piggie for information (it’s big, it’s pretty, and they can share it), but Piggie holds fast on this basic principle: Gerald will have to wait. Gerald lets out an almighty “GROAN!” Variations on this basic exchange occur throughout the day; Gerald pleads, Piggie insists they must wait; Gerald groans. As the day turns to twilight (signaled by the backgrounds that darken from mauve to gray to charcoal), Gerald gets grumpy. “WE HAVE WASTED THE WHOLE DAY!…And for WHAT!?” Piggie then gestures up to the Milky Way, which an awed Gerald acknowledges “was worth the wait.” Willems relies even more than usual on the slightest of changes in posture, layout and typography, as two waiting figures can’t help but be pretty static. At one point, Piggie assumes the lotus position, infuriating Gerald. Most amusingly, Gerald’s elephantine groans assume weighty physicality in spread-filling speech bubbles that knock Piggie to the ground. And the spectacular, photo-collaged images of the Milky Way that dwarf the two friends makes it clear that it was indeed worth the wait.

A lesson that never grows old, enacted with verve by two favorite friends . (Early reader. 6-8)

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4231-9957-1

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Nov. 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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A thoughtful, candid look at self-reflection.

THE BAD SEED

Sometimes this sunflower seed can be just plain rotten!

The book’s self-professed scoundrel opens with a warning. “I’m a bad seed. / A baaaaaaaaaaad seed.” Even other seeds whisper in agreement: that’s one bad seed. What makes this seed so bad? Well, he’s always late and lies often. He stares and glares and never listens. He cuts in line all the time and never washes his hands or feet. And he does other horrible things too bad to list. Young readers (and some older ones as well) will chuckle at the list of misdeeds, then perhaps wonder whether they’re guilty of such baaaaaaaaaaad behavior themselves, but John aims for more fruitful ground. What makes a seed go bad? A tragic back story provides at least one reason for the badness. When the rogue seed decides “to be happy” by doing good, it’s not so hard to cheer for him. Loudly. The change may seem abrupt, although there is a sense that being good takes time. Throughout the story, Oswald’s digital, watercolor-infused illustrations keep the focus exclusively on the titular bad seed, depicting the world around him hilariously reacting to his misbehavior and using close-ups—sometimes extreme ones—for comical effect. Small moments of goodness appear that much more profound as a result.

A thoughtful, candid look at self-reflection. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 29, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-246776-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2017

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