art in the hands of poets

dancing hands coverDancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln

by Margarita Engle  ; Illus. Rafael López

Hardcover Nonfiction Picture book, 40 pp.

Two incredible creators on one project? Yes, please–and thank you!

Let’s just gaze upon that cover shall we?! What follows inside the pages will surely be a feast for the eyes and ears. And they are. The poets in word and pictures tell the story of a courageous child prodigy traversing a time and place full of beauty at first, and later, at war. Neither storyteller shrinks back from the dark and it only serves the light Teresa brings to the landscapes/lives she encounters.

dancing hands interior 2
illustrations from Dancing Hands by Rafael López 

I love the kindnesses extended in the story where the inhospitable can also be found. I love the way Engle translates the humanity of her historical figures, returning them to a life we can relate to and admire. Teresa Carreño is inspiration today and our troubled times. Art is of such great import; a gift.

“The memory of meeting past challenges now helped her fingers dance, celebrating the way life had turned out to be a mixture of all sorts of feelings, happy and sad.”

dancing hands interior 3
illustrations from Dancing Hands by Rafael López 

The words and pictures are deeply moving. The image of the day Teresa’s family fled Venezuela, her bowed head, the tumultuous sea overlaid—remarkable.

dancing hands interior 1
illustrations from Dancing Hands by Rafael López 

Do make the time, and shelf space for Dancing Hands. Ages recommended seem to be 4-6 most places, but there are details older readers will better appreciate.


Margarita Engle was the 2017­–2019 national Young People’s Poet Laureate, and received the 2019 NSK Neustadt Prize. She is the Cuban-American author of many verse novels, including Soaring EarthWith a Star in My HandThe Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor winner; and The Lightning Dreamer, a PEN Literary Award for Young Adult Literature winner. Her verse memoir, Enchanted Air, received the Pura Belpré Award, a Walter Dean Myers Award Honor, and was a finalist for the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, among others. Her picture book Drum Dream Girl received the Charlotte Zolotow Award. Margarita was born in Los Angeles, but developed a deep attachment to her mother’s homeland during childhood summers with relatives. She continues to visit Cuba as often as she can.

Rafael López was born and raised in Mexico, a place that has always influenced the vivid colors and shapes in his artwork. He now creates community-based mural projects around the world and illustrates acclaimed children’s books including The Day You BeginBravo!, Drum Dream Girl We’ve Got the Whole World in Our HandsBook Fiesta!, and Dancing Hands. Rafael divides his time between Mexico and California.


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