Write On, Irving Berlin! by Leslie Kimmelman

 

WRITE ON, IRVING BERLIN!
Written by Leslie Kimmelman
Illustrated by David C. Gardner
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, Ages 6-9)

 

book cover image from Write On, Irving Berlin! by Leslie Kimmelman

 

This quote says it all – 

“Irving Berlin has no place in American music – he is American music.”

— Jerome Kern

It’s been almost 30 years since we lost the brilliant musical talent, Irving Berlin, but his music lives on. In fact, the great news is that we can frequently hear some of his most famous songs throughout the year at sporting events, at Christmastime and in musical revivals across the country. Write On, Irving Berlin! written by Leslie Kimmelman and illustrated by David C. Gardner is billed as a lyrical story of an immigrant and the composition of “God Bless America.” This picture book biography provided the interesting back story of the man behind so many hits including “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”, “Putting On The Ritz”, “White Christmas”, “Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning” as well as all the wonderful songs from Annie Get Your GunEaster Parade and many others.

 

interior artwork of Israel Isidore Baline arriving in N.Y. from Write On, Irving Berlin!

Interior spread from Write On, Irving Berlin! written by Leslie Kimmelman with illustrations by David C. Gardner, Sleeping Bear Press ©2018.

 

When it became too unsafe to remain in Russia for Jews, five-year-old Israel Isidore Baline and his family traveled by ship to America in 1893 to begin a new life. Thousands of immigrants arrived at Ellis Island in New York with barely anything but memories of their homeland. But at least they were safe and free. In school, Israel went by the name of of Izzy but found it difficult to focus on learning. Music filled his head. That was no surprise. In Russia his father had been a cantor, “standing side by side with rabbis, singing and filing synagogues with beautiful music.”  Sadly, Izzy’s father passed away when the boy was just thirteen. He left school and his family so as not to be an added burden and struck out on his own. What did he do? He sang wherever he could get a paying job. He also wrote song lyrics although he couldn’t read or write music! He actually hummed his tunes and had someone else write down what he created. Pretty impressive I’d say. By this time Izzy was calling himself Irving Berlin and had sold his first song for 37 cents. He found a job at a music publisher and, since ragtime music was all the rage, he wrote Alexander’s Ragtime Band which became “a smash.”

 

interior artwork from Write On, Irving Berlin! pg 14 spread ragtime

Interior spread from Write On, Irving Berlin! written by Leslie Kimmelman with illustrations by David C. Gardner, Sleeping Bear Press ©2018.

 

Soon Irving Berlin married but not long after the wedding, his wife Dorothy became ill and died. He turned to his music to get him through his grief, still grateful for all that his new country had given him. During WWI Berlin was drafted into the army where he wrote songs to lift the spirits of his fellow soldiers. After that he found love again with Ellin and wrote the song “Always” for her. One hit followed another and Berlin’s popularity grew. He seemed to live and breathe music and wrote songs at any time of the day or night and in any place, including the bathtub!

 

interior artwork p 21_22 from Write On, Irving Berlin! bathtub scene

Interior spread from Write On, Irving Berlin! written by Leslie Kimmelman with illustrations by David C. Gardner, Sleeping Bear Press ©2018.

 

It probably took little time to write one of his all time greats, “God Bless America”, a song that celebrates its 100th or 80th anniversary this year depending on whether you count when he first composed it or when he released it decades later. I had no idea Berlin donated all the proceeds from the song to the Boy and Girl Scouts of America or that people weren’t happy that a Jewish man, an immigrant, had written the song. What stunned me was those same folks could again not embrace his other huge hit, “White Christmas” for the same reason. Despite that, Berlin is said to have told a friend he thought it was the best song anybody had ever written. There is more to learn about this amazingly talented man such as how he traveled to war zones during WWII to help entertain the troops and how his fount of song ideas seemed ever flowing. Kimmelman’s included an author’s note in the back matter where I learned Berlin not only helped found the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) but in his lifetime he received not only the Medal of Merit from President Truman but the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Eisenhower as well.

 

Nothing stopped Irving from writing int artwork from Write On, Irving Berlin!

Interior spread from Write On, Irving Berlin! written by Leslie Kimmelman with illustrations by David C. Gardner, Sleeping Bear Press ©2018.

 

Kimmelman’s shared just the right amount of information with her prose although there is so much material about Berlin to choose from given his long career.  I liked how, since this is an anniversary year for “God Bless America”, she included that very line at various points throughout the book. Looking at Gardner’s beautiful historical imagery with its water color quality, readers will get a terrific sense of time, place and mood. Prepare to be transported back by both Kimmelman’s words and Gardner’s illustrations to a time when Tin Pan Alley was turning out the hits and Irving Berlin was at the top of his game. I recommend reading the book while playing a selection of some of his songs which can be found here.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Read another picture book biography here.

 

Never Say Never! Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story

NATURE’S FRIEND:
THE GWEN FROSTIC STORY
Written by Lindsey McDivitt
Illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, Ages 6-9)

 

cover art from Nature's Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story by Lindsey McDivitt

 

One of the best parts about reviewing children’s books is learning about someone or something new. That’s exactly what happened after reading Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story by Lindsey McDivitt with illustrations by Eileen Ryan Ewen. You may have noticed that there aren’t a lot of traditionally published picture books about people with disabilities, but there are more now than there used to be and that’s a good thing. Authors like McDivitt are making a difference by writing about diverse individuals and topics which I truly appreciate and why I jumped at the chance to review Nature’s Friend.

This inspiring debut picture book biography introduces children to the art and writing of Gwen Frostic, someone about whom, as I mentioned above, I knew nothing prior to reading the book. And now I’m eager to see her art in person and you will be, too. Born in Michigan in 1906, Frostic contracted an illness as an infant that left her physically disabled. But with the positive influence of her mother, Gwen never avoided doing all the things that her brothers and sisters did. “I never knew I couldn’t do something,” is the overarching message of Nature’s Friend, a quote in McDivitt’s book that captures the essence of who Gwen was—a bright, creative and resourceful woman who never let perceived obstacles hold her back. She clearly was ahead of her time.

 

Int illustration by Eileen Ryan Ewen from Nature's Friend by Lindsey McDivitt

Interior artwork from Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story written by Lindsey McDivitt and illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen, Sleeping Bear Press ©2018.

 

Gwen’s mother, a former teacher, could have taught her daughter at home because in the early 20th century it was more common for disabled children to stay at home. Instead, Mrs. Frostic “sent Gwen to school and pushed her to learn.” While the bullying might have painful, the young girl chose to focus on her academics and was an adept student. In fact, it was also due to her mother’s encouragement and guidance that Gwen’s weak hands grew stronger as her mother had her practice sketching. Gwen, who had embraced nature at an early age, would find later in life that this experience greatly influenced her career path.

 

int art by Eileen Ryan Ewen from Nature's Friend by Lindsey McDivitt

Interior artwork from Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story written by Lindsey McDivitt and illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen, Sleeping Bear Press ©2018.

 

At age 12, Gwen’s family moved to Detroit. It was there in high school that she learned mechanical drawing and other skills not typically part of a girl’s curriculum. Someone wrote in her yearbook, “Her brush, her pencil and her pen will make this world a better place!” But pursuing a career in art wasn’t necessarily going to provide for her. The tides turned in her favor when wealthy and influential people began purchasing her designs. What joy and satisfaction it must have been for Frostic when her art was chosen to be exhibited at the 1939 New York World’s Fair! Soon though her grand plans were put on hold due to WWII. She went to work at the Ford Motor Company to help the war effort by designing “tools for building the airplanes.”

In addition to Gwen’s airplane construction work, at home she remained drawn to art, eventually purchasing a printing press and starting her own business. Frostic called it Presscraft Papers Stationary Company and based it first in Frankfort, Michigan and then on the Betsie River to be closer to nature. The back matter states that Frostic created greeting cards and books that “celebrated Michigan plans and wildlife.” She was awarded countless honors in her lifetime and worked in her shop well into her 90s.

 

int art by Eileen Ryan Ewen from Nature's Friend by Lindsey McDivitt

Interior artwork from Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story written by Lindsey McDivitt and illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen, Sleeping Bear Press ©2018.

 

Ewen’s serene artwork conveys Frostic’s love of nature on every page. I also felt the movement and emotion as Gwen clenched her sketching pencil, smelled the fresh Michigan air in the beautifully rendered outdoor scenes and watched the changing fashions go by as Gwen matured. The illustrations, coupled with McDivitt’s honest and uplifting prose that applauds determination and individuality, promises hope and invites creativity (there’s a craft included at the end), make this a wonderful and worthwhile read for not only kids, but for adults too who may be unfamiliar with Frostic.

Everything about Gwen Frostic was unique, from her art to her attitude. Rather than let society define what she could and couldn’t do as a woman and as a person with disabilities, she wrote her own rules and lived happily and successfully by them. Considering the era she lived in, it’s especially encouraging to read about female trailblazers like Gwen Frostic who forged ahead with their talents allowing their heart to guide them.

“As long as there are trees in tiny seeds … there will be miracles on earth.” – Gwen Frostic, A Walk With Me

Learn more about Gwen’s studio here.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Read another picture book biography here.

 

 

 

We’re Teaming Up With Once Upon a Time Bookstore in a New Monthly Feature

“What We’re Reading”

WEDNESDAYS WITH ONCE UPON A TIME

A Roundup of Independence Day Books

 

 

We’re delighted to introduce a new monthly feature where local bookstore owner, Maureen Palacios and her daughter Jessica, of Once Upon a Time, weigh in on what they’re loving in hopes that you’ll love their suggestions too. Established in 1966, Once Upon a Time in Montrose, California is America’s Oldest Children’s Bookstore.

 

Pie is for Sharing cover illustrationMany things come to mind when you mention celebrating the most American of holidays, Fourth of July — fireworks, picnics, parades, food and family, among others.  As we take a look at a roundup of Fourth of July titles, one of my new favorites—although not technically an Independence Day title—is filled with emotional resonance that conjures up all the great feelings of a well-spent day of celebration. The debut picture book by author and poet Stephanie Parsley Ledyard, whose words are expressively coupled with artwork by Jason Chin, Pie Is for Sharing (Roaring Brook Press) is a first book about the joys of sharing. With a similar cadence to that wonderful picture book, Stars by Marla Frazee, this book celebrates a rich, diverse community in the everyday delights of climbing a tree, sitting on a warm beach towel and, of course, sharing every morsel of a pie. Chin expertly intersperses bits of red, white and blue in each page to magically and triumphantly end in a glorious cascade of fireworks! A perfect read for ages 2-6.
Starred reviews – Booklist, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Kirkus, The Horn Book,

 

The 4th of July Story cover illustrationGeared to the 4-8 age group is The 4thof July Story, written by two-time Newbery winner Alice Dalgliesh and illustrated by Marie Nonnast. First published in 1956, this paperback has adequate information for late kindergarten and a bit higher, but not for much younger and its illustration style may seem dated to some. The concept of war is a tough enough subject, and trying to explain the origins along with what actually happens may be too much for younger learners. I did enjoy remembering that the origin of “Congress,” which was newly enacted in Philadelphia during the run up to the Revolutionary War, means “coming together.” This simple telling of how the holiday began is why the book remains a primary teacher favorite. Still worth revisiting.

 

 

 

cover illustration from The One and Only Declaration of IndependenceFor a more contemporary approach for older children, I highly recommend The Journey of the One and Only Declaration of Independence, written by Judith St. George and sprightly illustrated by Will Hillenbrand. This 46-page picture book is not so much about the actual Fourth of July holiday, but rather about the history of the document which it inspired. Young readers, ages 7 and up, will embrace the fun and engaging text, with much more current information about the precious piece of parchment that outlines our country’s initial thoughts on freedom, equality and liberty.  Still resonating in today’s divisive political climate, this book, with a biography in back, is a terrific addition to your holiday book shelf.
Starred reviews – Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal


• Reviewed by Maureen Palacios

You can click on the colored links for each book reviewed and go directly to the bookshop’s web store to place an order. Good Reads With Ronna does not get compensated for any purchase. All opinions expressed are those of Once Upon a Time.

Mother and daughter booksellers Maureen and Jessica Palacios of Once Upon a TieOnce Upon A Time
“Your family bookstore”
2207 Honolulu Ave. Montrose, CA 91020
818.248.9668

http://www.ShopOnceUponATime.com

Closed on Wednesday, July 4th
Story time: Every Thursday at 11 am
 
(Pictured at left, mom and daughter booksellers)

Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders

PRIDE:
The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag
Written by Rob Sanders
Illustrated by Steven Salerno
(Random House BYR; $17.99, Ages 5-8)

A Junior Library Guild Selection
Starred review – Shelf Awareness

Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag book cover

The rainbow is arguably one of the most well known symbols representing “hope” and PRIDE: The Story of Harvey Milk And The Rainbow Flag, by Rob Sanders with illustrations by Steven Salerno, shares that message beautifully. I whole-heartedly recommend this 48-page picture book that’s geared for elementary school-aged children.

After 40 years it’s about time we have a children’s book that captures the glorious strength of social activist Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California, as well as Gilbert Baker, the man behind the internationally renown Rainbow Flag. PRIDE: The Story of Harvey Milk And The Rainbow Flag is a wonderfully written, honest introduction to the LGBTQ movement and offers the chance for all kids to understand its history.

In clear and direct prose, PRIDE takes readers up to Milk’s death, stating that his assassination came at the hands of people who, “Did not think like Harvey, or feel like him, or love like him.” Then the story continues and shows that Baker remained a gay rights activist helping others reclaim hope and pride with the Rainbow Flag for the rest of his life. My favorite moment in the book is a glorious two-page spread, see below:

interior artwork from Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag

Interior spread from Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag written by Rob Sanders and illustrated by Steven Salerno, Random House BYR ©2018.


PRIDE
conveys an important, timely message that we all have the power to give hope, spread love, and reach places that may seem unimaginable to us, especially when things seem so dark in life. That’s when we need symbols of hope more than ever, and the Rainbow Flag is a strong reminder and nod to inclusivity that we all need, regardless of sexual orientation. The helpful back matter includes a great timeline, reading recommendations and photographs.

  • Reviewed by Ozma Bryant

Read another recent LGBTQ themed picture book review here.

 

World Make Way – Art Inspired Poetry Edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins

WORLD MAKE WAY:
New Poems Inspired by Art
from The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins
(Abrams BYR; $16.99, Ages 5-9)

 

World Make Way cover image of Cat Watching a Spider by Ōide Tōkō

 

A curious, crouching cat on the book’s cover immediately drew me into World Make Way: New Poems Inspired by Art from The Metropolitan Museum of Art edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins. Eighteen thoughtful and evocative poems and the accompanying works of art that prompted their creation kept me turning the pages. This beautiful collection is everything a poetry anthology for children should be: diverse, original and, as the title suggests, inspiring. In the book’s back matter I learned that Lee Bennett Hopkins, the editor of World Make Way, holds the Guinness Book of World Records citation for compiling the most anthologies for children, making him more than well-suited to spearhead this satisfying project in conjunction with the Met.

I appreciate the breadth of art that was selected and the variety of poems that were commissioned for World Make Way. There is something that will appeal to every reader who dives in, whether they like short, simple poems or those more complex and layered. There are serious poems and those that have fun with the reader like Marilyn Singer’s poem, Paint Me, the first in the book. In it the teen subject of Gustav Klimt’s portrait, Mäda Primavesi, bids the artist to make haste and finish up the painting because she’s such a busy person, hence the book’s title World Make Way, a line she utters in desperation! She has places to go. People to see. After all, if her family can afford to have Klimt paint her, she’s likely a socialite. Ultimately the book will show children how to look at art with fresh eyes and take from it something unique to them. Art evokes something different in each person who beholds it and the poems included perfectly capture that.

One particular poem that stayed with me was Young Ashoka Sundari by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater inspired by Shiva and Parvati Playing Chaupar: Folio from a Rasamanjari Series, 1694-95 by Devidasa of Nurpur. Her poem introduces readers to Ashoka who secretly observes her parents: I stand behind this neem tree / to watch my parents play / a game of chaupar / on a tiger rug / beneath bright mango sky. Offering a child’s perspective in her poem, Vanderwater helped me to have a lightbulb moment with the artwork. It’s not always about what we see when observing art, it’s also about what or who the artist left out, or where the scene is set. What a wonderful conversation starter! What does this art say to you? What do you think is happening here now? How does this picture make you feel? What might happen now that the child has witnessed this scene?

In my multiple readings I found myself wondering what I’d write about a certain piece of art such as Henri Rousseau’s The Repast of the Lion, but if I ever see the painting again, I’ll forever associate J. Patrick Lewis’s poem with it. Now that he’s fed and jaguar-full— / Finally his appetite is dull— And of Joan Bransfield Graham’s Great Indian Fruit Bat, a poem about a painting of the same name attributed to Bhawani Das or a follower, 1777-82  I marveled at her internal rhyme and alliteration. As my wings whisk me, swooping through / this black velvet night, who will admire / my elegant attire, the intricacy …  A bat’s point of view, fantastic!

Other featured poets are: Alma Flor Ada, Cynthia S. Cotten, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Julie Fogliano, Charles Ghigna, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Irene Latham, Elaine Magliaro, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Marilyn Nelson, Naomi Shihab Nye, Ann Whitford Paul, Carole Boston Weatherford and Janet Wong. Other featured artists are: Rosa Bonheur, Fernando Botero, Mary Cassatt, Liberale Da Verona, Leonardo Da Vinci, Han Gan, Martin Johnson Heade, Frank Henderson, Utagawa Hiroshige, Winslow Homer, Kerry James Marshall, José Guadalupe Posada and Ōide Tōkō.

While I can definitely see educators enjoying the book for its varying forms of poetry and the individual interpretations of the poets to accompany the magnificent works of art, I can also easily see a parent sharing the book before any museum visit or simply as a way to spark a child’s imagination. It certainly sparked mine.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Read a review of another poetry collection here.

 

Visiting L.A. With Little Ones This Summer? Bring Along Los Angeles Is …

LOS ANGELES IS …
Written by Elisa Parhad
Illustrated by Alexander Vidal
(Cameron Kids; $12.95, Ages 0-4)

 

Los Angeles Is ... by Elisa Parhad cover illustration

 

If you’re planning to visit Los Angeles this summer or sometime soon, or perhaps you even live here, get yourself a copy of Los Angeles Is … by Elisa Parhad to experience the city in a fun new way. This original and engaging approach to L.A. in board book format is not only full of refreshing tour guide language little ones will love, but is spot on in its perspective. Los Angeles Is … looks at L.A. from two savvy insiders’ points of view (both author and illustrator are Angelenos) and highlights aspects of “one of America’s most iconic cities” that not all books touch upon. And I’m happy to say, it’s the first in a series of regional board books by Parhard with illustrator Alexander Vidal.

The 24 vibrantly colored pages and clever descriptions bring young readers on an enticing tour of the town taking in everything L.A. from surfing waves / fashion faves …

 

Interior illustrations waves and faves from Los Angeles Is ... by Elisa Parhad

Interior artwork from Los Angeles Is … written by Elisa Parhad and illustrated by Alexander Vidal, Cameron Kids/Cameron + Company ©2018.

 

… to citrus fruits / long commutes. The rhyme is perfectly paired with the pictures (as seen above and below) and rather than including only the same old expected spots and landmarks, there are lots of unexpected sights (late-night diners / mod designers) mixed with ones always worth noting (canyon views / movie crews). Another aspect of L.A. that we’d prefer to forget—long commutes—is also depicted because it’s part and parcel of daily life in the City of Angels.

 

Interior illustrations fruits and commutes from Los Angeles Is ... by Elisa Parhad

Interior artwork from Los Angeles Is … written by Elisa Parhad and illustrated by Alexander Vidal, Cameron Kids/Cameron + Company ©2018.

 

Parents will appreciate the realistic portrait of California’s biggest city while toddlers will like the upbeat rhythm and enchanting artwork. Illustrator and designer  Vidal captures the sunshine and sophistication of L.A. and its array of attractions in images familiar to many and warm and welcoming to others. Make a game out of reading Los Angeles Is … together with your child to try to name places and things to do from A-Z including airport, farmers market, orange orchard and Rodeo Drive.

 

Interior illustrations eats and feats from Los Angeles Is ... by Elisa Parhad

Interior artwork from Los Angeles Is … written by Elisa Parhad and illustrated by Alexander Vidal, Cameron Kids/Cameron + Company ©2018.

 

I found myself quite partial to Vidal’s characters and animals with their pointy legs and no feet yet somehow that style works wonderfully. I also enjoyed how everything else, whether palm-lined streets, food truck treats, low-ride cruising or poolside snoozing is depicted with bold graphic shapes such as ovals, rectangles, circles and squares, maybe not intentionally done as a learning tool, but still ideal for pointing out to little ones.

I recommend picking up a copy of Los Angeles Is … to make any visit more meaningful to youngsters and, while you’re at it, get an extra copy for a friend with children four and under. I know you’ll find it as delightful as I did.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Read a review of another travel-themed board book here.

 

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