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Dancing Hands

Updated: Mar 30, 2020

Engle, Margarita. Rafael López, illus. Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln. New York: Antheneum, 2019.


Primary - Picture Book


This touching children’s book tells the true story of María Teresa Carreño García de Sena (1853-1917), a musical prodigy who was forced to leave her native country of Venezuela for New York during the revolution of 1862. She was only nine years old.


Teresa was already writing her own songs at that age of six. At seven (in author Margarita Engle’s words) “she performed in the peaceful chapel of a magnificent cathedral, playing hymns that shimmered like hummingbirds.” Teresa and her family fled one war in Venezuela only to find another in New York, the U.S. Civil War. Despite the fact that “soldiers marched and newspaper boys hollered about victories, defeats, funerals and fears,” Teresa continues to practice and play for guests at home and in small concerts. Then, “people began to call her the Piano Girl” and soon she was playing solos with great orchestras.


In the fall of 1863 President Abraham Lincoln, grieving the death of his son and the fate of his nation, invited Teresa to play at the White House. The book tells the story of this extraordinary event in Engle’s vivid and poetic prose, with repeating images of “dancing hands” and “dark and light,” along with lush and dreamy illustrations by Rafael López.


Overall, the book explores the power of music in a dark world--when a 10 year old girl is able to bring “comfort to a grieving family, at least for one brief, wonderful evening of dancing hands.”


2020 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award


Review by: Valerie Martinez, Director of HLA-NHCC


Available at the NHCC Library, Picture Books

ML3930.C2635 E55 2019

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