Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln

Book review by
Monica Encarnacion, Common Sense Media
Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln Book Poster Image
Beautiful historical picture book has stunning art.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Kids learn a powerful lesson while briefly learning about the Civil War and the life of Abraham Lincoln.

Positive Messages

Be brave an you can succeed. Music can help you feel better. The historical note at the end also offers strong messages about gender equality and the importance of the arts as a form of expression.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Teresa Carreño is brave, talented, and optimistic, bold and free. Abraham Lincoln is kind and appreciates the special talent of a littel girl. 

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Margarita Engle's Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln, beautifully illustrated by Rafael López, tells the story of a little girl's bravery, her musical talents, and important contribution towards equality in the arts. It's based on the true story of Teresa Carreño, a child prodigy who played piano for Abraham Lincoln during the U.S. Civil War. Teresa's family came to America fleeing the revolution in Venezuela but found that there was fighting happening in the United States as well. Teresa's musical talents allowed her to find joy again and share happiness with others during such dark times. The author's Historical Note at the end of the book shares more details about Teresa Carreño's life, including her life beyond childhood.

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What's the story?

DANCING HANDS: HOW TERESA CARRENO PLAYED PIANO FOR PRESIDENT LINCOLN is an inspirational story about one little girl's journey to fame. Teresa Carreño was a young girl who loved music and had a special talent for letting her hands dance across the beautiful keys of a piano. Then a revolution in Venezuela drove her family to flee to the United States. The family arrived only to find another violent conflict taking place in teh United States -- the Civil War. Teresa felt lonely in her new home with no friends and few people spoke her language. However, everyone could relate to her beautiful music! She quickly became known as the "Piano Girl," playing in enormous theaters alongside great orchestras, and eventually became a famous pianist. So famous, in fact, that one day President Abraham Lincoln invited her to play for his entire family at the White House!

Is it any good?

This historical story reads like a beautiful poem. Author Margarita Engle's elaborate descriptions and rich metaphors transport the reader back in time. The vibrant and stunning illustrations also help draw the reader into Teresa's life, her music, and the historical events of the time period. Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played for President Lincoln is a great story to share with young readers, especially those who may need a little inspiration or be uncertain of how their unique talents can have great impact on others.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how teh power of music is shown in in Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played for President Lincoln. What kind of music do you enjoy most and why? 

  • What do you know about Abraham Lincoln and the U.S. Civil War? Where coudl you find out more?

  • Have you ever moved to a new place or school? How did you feel? Was it easy or hard to make new friends? Was there a particular thing or person that helped you through the difficult transition?



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