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Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln by Margarita Engle and Rafael López

Margarita Engle is one of my favorite poets! Elementary children love Drum Dream Girl and Bravo!. Middle schoolers love her memoirs Enchanted Air and Soaring Earth. She writes in a lyrical fashion that is so beautiful it causes your breath to catch. Dancing Hands, like her other work, does not disappoint. A picture book told in verse, it is a beautiful biography of Teresa Carreño. Teresa was a Venezuelan pianist, who gained critical acclaim for bringing joy in music to Abraham Lincoln in the White House after a time of strife in his life. She fled her home country of Venezuela only to come to civil war torn America. In this, Teresa finds a way to bring light into a world with much darkness. She went on to play all around the world and become a renowned musician. At the end, there is a historical note with more details about her life.

Even though they were at war, she still didn’t give up hope. People were rude to her and didn’t treat her well, but she knew she could make people happy with her music.” ~ Bradley, age 9

The pages come alive when she is playing the piano.” ~ Paul, Age 8

Instructional Specialists suggest ways you could use this in the classroom:

  • Pair wonderfully as a text set with Echo by Pamela Muñoz Ryan
  • Study how mood can be set by both the images and the words
  • Build community and understanding of what it is like to leave your home/country
  • Provide an example so students coming from other countries could see their experiences in this text
  • Use as a strong mentor text for a biography book club unit
  • Encourage students to write biographies or their own stories in verse

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