Review: Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra by Andrea Davis Pinkney, Brian Pinkney

Title: Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra
Author: Andrea Davis Pinkney, Brian Pinkney (Illustrator)
Publication Date: March 3rd, 1998
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Genre: Children's
Pages: 32
Source: Private Library
Awards: Caldecott Honor 1999, 
Coretta Scott King Award for Illustrator Honor 1999 


Synopsis (from Goodreads): 
Hailed as the "King of the Keys," most people called his music jazz, but Duke Ellington said it was "the music of my people." A most fitting tribute to a great man who proudly celebrated the history of African-Americans, from slavery to civil rights struggles. Brian Pinkney's artwork swings and sways in a reflection of Ellington's music.


Andrea Davis Pinkney is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 20 books for children, including the Caldecott Honor Book and Coretta Scott King Honor Book Duke Ellington, illustrated by Brian Pinkney; Let it Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters, a Coretta Scott King Honor Book and winner of the Carter G. Woodson Award; and Alvin Ailey, a Parenting Publication Gold medal winner.

Pinkney's newest books include Meet the Obamas and Sojourner Truth's Step-Stomp Stride, which has garnered three starred reviews and has been named one of the "Best Books of 2009" by School Library Journal. In 2010, Andrea's book entitled Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down, was published on the 50th anniversary of the Greensboro, North Carolina, sit-ins of 1960.

Her mother is a teacher and her father is a great storyteller, so growing up surrounded by books and stories is what inspired Andrea Davis Pinkney to choose a career as an author. The first official story she remembers writing was in second grade — it was about her family. Pinkney was born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Connecticut. She went to Syracuse University, where she majored in journalism. After college, she followed her dream and worked as an editor for Essence magazine, but after watching her husband, Caldecott Award-winning artist Brian Pinkney, illustrate children's books, she decided to switch jobs and became involved in book publishing.

Andrea Davis Pinkney currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.


Born in Boston, Massachusetts, (Jerry) Brian Pinkney was raised in an artistic household. "My two brothers and sister and I played musical instruments, and we were always drawing, painting, or building things," the illustrator once recalled of his childhood. While his mother, children's book author Gloria Jean Pinkney, would inspire all her children with a love of reading, it would be his father, illustrator Jerry Pinkney, who would serve as a mentor to young Brian. "I did everything he did," Pinkney would later admit. "My desk was a miniature version of his desk. The paintbrushes and pencils I used were often the ones from his studio that were too old or too small for him to use. I had a paint set like his and a studio like his. Except my studio was a walk-in closet, which made it the perfect size for me."

According to the book back flap, he has played the drums since he was eight years old. He still keeps a set of drumsticks in his studio where, when resting from his illustrations, he sometimes taps out rhythms on the back of his chair. 

With his wife, writer Andrea Davis Pinkney, he makes his home in Brooklyn NY.

Andrea: Website | Twitter | Facebook
Brian: Website

        First I'd like to point out what a fine-looking couple the author and illustrator are! You know you're blessed when your soulmate's calling in life coincides with your own. That is just so darn precious.

This children's book comes not only with funky artwork, but the language is also set to its own beat. You learn cool new metaphors like "spicier than a pot of jambalaya!" or slang terms like "swankiest." You and your child(ren) can have fun together enjoying the colorful movement of the pages while learning about Duke Ellington's musical legacy during a time of racism. Andrea Davis Pinkney does a masterful job of creating equal movement with her words throughout the book. 

Interestingly enough, the pictures are done by the scratchboard painting technique. Scratchboard painting is created by using a white board that is covered with black ink and taking a nib (a very sharp tool) to scratch wavy ink that creates an image. Once the image is designed, the scratched part is painted over with oil paints, Luma dyes, and acrylic paints. Voila! A beautiful masterpiece that is unique, colorful, and pleasing to the young eye.

      I loved the velvety rhythm and movement between the words and illustrations. This is a very unique book that can be used as an educational tool for both musical and African-American history. I would suggest playing some of Duke Ellington's music along with this book to enhance the learning experience. I look forward to discovering more books by these two!

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