The Girl Who Heard the Music: How One Pianist and 85,000 Bottles and Cans Brought New Hope to an Island

By Marni Fogelson with Mahani Teave, illustrated by Marta Álvarez Miguéns. Sourcebooks Kids, 2023. 40 pages. $18.99/hardcover; $11.99/paperback; $7.99/eBook. Recommended for ages 4–8.

Remember Rapa Nui? The island far out in the Pacific with the huge statues (moai) that were carved by islanders centuries ago: the island Dutch explorers called “Easter Island” about 300 years ago? There is a world-class concert pianist who grew up there and who has done some amazing things for the island and its people. This is the story of Mahani Teave, a native of Rapa Nui.

There are about 8,000 permanent residents of Rapa Nui, and when Mahani was young, there was only one piano on the island. Through her inspired play, study, and persistence, Mahani became a successful composer and pianist. She performed all over the world and charted a #1 EP (extended play) recording on the Billboard classical charts. It’s clear that Mahani loves where she came from.

The people of Rapa Nui faced many challenges in maintaining their culture. They also were challenged by the tons of man-made trash deposited on their shores by the prevailing ocean currents. Mahani helped found a nongovernmental organization named Toki tasked with preserving the island’s ecology and culture. The result was an ecologically friendly music and cultural school. The school was built on donated land and used some of the tons of debris that washed up on the beach as building materials. Solar panels and rainwater collection were other features of the new school. The community and the island are transforming with a goal to be sustainable and waste-free by 2030. Both traditional culture and a wide range of music and instruments are taught and embraced at the school.

The book’s colorful illustrations evoke the sense of Mahani’s adventure. This book might appeal to children older than the publisher’s recommendation of ages 4–8, depending upon their interest in the topic. It is a lovely story that could surely plant seeds of inspiration for young ones and maybe a few older ones too!

Victoria Le Croy is a mother, grandmother, and retired educator living near Nashville, Tenn.

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