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.

 

Best Kids Books for Halloween 2015

BEST KIDS BOOKS FOR HALLOWEEN 2015

A Round Up of Wickedly Wonderful Halloween Books for Boos & Ghouls
{Part 1}

 

Peek_a_BooPeek-a-Boo! – By Nina Laden (Chronicle Books; $6.99, Ages 0-2)
Presenting the third in Nina Laden’s popular Peek-a board book series. Youngsters will delight in 22 pages of adorable Halloween sights and sounds, infectious rhyme and best of all, a mirror at the end for Peek a WHO ARE YOU? Laden’s adorable artwork is complemented by the many die-cuts that will have kids exploring and eager to turn every page.

 

 

Boo!cvrBoo! – By Leslie Patricelli (Candlewick Press; $6.99, Ages 0-3)
A bigger board book than Peek-a-Boo!, (this one measures 7″ x 7″) and with more pages and text, Boo! addresses a lot of what a first Halloween is like for youngsters. The diaper clad little laddie from Toot, Tickle, Tubby, Binkie and Blankie is back to share all the excitement of Halloween with readers. He picks out a pumpkin, then carves it (with his dad’s assistance of course!), decides what costume he should wear as Mom helps narrow down the choices, and then heads out to trick-or-treat with his dad. It may seem dark and scary at first, but the rewards from lots of ding, dong doorbell ringing add up to a bunch of yummy candy treats and a great time had by all!

 

FrightClubcvrFright Club – Written and illustrated by Ethan Long (Bloomsbury Children’s Books; $16.99, Ages 0-5)
I gravitated towards this book because of the fab title and cover art, and then the original story idea kept me interested to see where Long would take it. Vladimir calls a meeting of the Fright Club in preparation for OPERATION KIDDIE SCARE, but as the creatures are reviewing the rules, a bunny interrupts the meeting. Hilarious antics ensue as the cute little rabbit is determined to be admitted to the exclusive club. Once Frances Foxx, Public Attorney enters the picture, it’s laugh after laugh as a bunch of determined critters prove their worth and gain entry into Fright Club because “… when it comes to scaring, the more the merrier.”

Halloween_Hide-And_SeekA Moonlight Book: Halloween Hide-And-Seek Written by Elizabeth Golding & Moira Butterfield and illustrated by Dean Gray (Running Press Kids; $12.95, Ages 4-8)
This clever and engaging book includes over 200 scary, halloween related things to find and as the subtitle instructs, all readers have to do is move the magic flashlight to find the hidden objects. And was that ever fun!! There are 12 pages of spooky entertainment in this haunted house, enough to keep your child happily occupied as they search for items listed on each page. There are extra SPOOKTASTIC challenges to be found on every spread from bedroom to ballroom. From chattering teeth in a glass to crazy zombies, A Moonlight Book: Halloween Hide-And-Seek has ’em all! NOTE: Even my teenager got in on the action because he liked how the flashlight worked!

Other fun books we also recommend buying this Halloween:

TrickarrrTreatTrick Arrr Treat: A Pirate Halloween –
Written by Leslie Kimmelman and illustrated by Jorge Monlongo
(Albert Whitman & Company.; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

SpookyPookieSpooky Pookie 
Written and illustrated by Sandra Boynton
(Robin Corey Books; $5.99, Ages 0-3)

 

 

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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