Award-Winning Books Mentally Yours Non-fiction Wednesday Nonfiction Picture Books Reading Themes

[Nonfiction Wednesday] Beyond Sight in “Piano Starts Here” – Art Tatum’s Life Story


Myra here.

We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book meme 2017 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year.


One of the strategies that I am using to hunt down for books that fit our reading theme is to go through the Schneider Family Book Award winners. This picturebook biography of Art Tatum received the award in 2009, so I immediately ordered it via inter-library loan.


Piano Starts Here: The Young Art Tatum

Written and Illustrated by: Robert Andrew Parker
Published by: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2008
ISBN: 1930900732 (ISBN13: 9781930900738). Literary Awards: Schneider Family Book Award for Young Children’s Book (2009)
Borrowed through inter-library loan. Book photos taken by me.

Young Art Tatum grew up in Toledo with a mechanic for a father and a homemaker mother who is described to be very busy doing her cleaning and housework. Art suffered from an eye condition that grew worse as he became older.


While he did have a few operations, none were successful in improving his eyesight which was severely limited from birth. Yet when he played the piano, everything else faded into the background.


As imagined by author-illustrator Robert Andrew Parker:

“When I am at the piano, I close my eyes. I play clouds of notes, rivers of notes, notes that sound like skylarks singing and leaves rustling, like rain on a rooftop. I forget that my eyes aren’t good. I have everything I need.”

I say “imagined” by the author because he did indicate in his Author’s Note found at the end of the book:

In this book, I used whatever details of Tatum’s childhood I could find, along with my imagination, to fill in the missing pieces.

Since I was not entirely sure what are those missing pieces, I thought it better to be on the safe side. Teachers would be glad to note that there is also a list of References found at the end of the book. Art Tatum eventually became one of the greatest jazz musicians, along with the likes of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington to cite a few. For your auditory and visual delectation, I found a Youtube clip of Art Tatum playing Yesterdays. Enjoy!

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Singapore. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she serves as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads or meeting up with her book club friends, she is smashing that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life.

4 comments on “[Nonfiction Wednesday] Beyond Sight in “Piano Starts Here” – Art Tatum’s Life Story

  1. lindabaie

    It’s another of those wonderful biographies that tell about a struggle and a success. It really is amazing how passion overcomes challenges. Thanks for sharing this, and the music, wow!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Art Tatum is new to me! It’s interesting that there are several very successful visually-impaired African-American pianists.

    I’m glad the author includes references for further reading – picture book biographies can be a challenge sometimes, because as a reader it’s hard to know where the actual person and the author overlap.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Another great nonfiction picture book for this theme would be last year’s Are You an Echo? You had a great review of it last January.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I should look through the award winners as well. That’s a great idea. And thanks for sharing a title I hadn’t heard about before!


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