cover image Piano Man

Piano Man

Deborah Newton Chocolate, Debbi Chocolate. Walker & Company, $15.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-8027-8646-3

Chocolate (On the Day I Was Born) looked no further than her own backyard for this lively and affectionate tribute to her grandfather. Told from the girl's point of view and spanning three generations, the picture book reprises a versatile African American musician's career, from his salad days working as an accompanist for silent movies, where ""he'd play romping chords to the thriller-diller chase scenes flashing across the big silver screen,"" to the Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway, a ragtime road show and vaudeville, where he met and married a dancer. Steeped in nostalgia, the story unfolds like a short film, with black-bordered pages mimicking freeze frames from a movie reel. Velasquez's exuberant, realistic paintings follow the thread of family life, tracing the ties that bind father to daughter to granddaughter as well as offering a window on a bygone era. Bittersweet moments, such as the day ""talkies"" arrived and piano players were suddenly out of work, keep the story from slipping into the saccharine; poignant moments, such as the day the girl's mother purchased the old movie house piano for her grandfather's 75th birthday, lend it genuine tenderness. In a final fade-out, the old man plays accompaniment to a TV cowboy movie with the sound turned down, to the delight of his granddaughter. This vivid picture of America's past may well prompt discussions of the nation's history as well as family roots. Ages 5-8. (Feb.)