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.

 

Celebrate Multicultural Children’s Book Day With Little Melba and Her Big Trombone

Good Reads With Ronna
is a proud participant in
Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2015
Featuring Little Melba and Her Big Trombone

Today is Multicultural Children’s Book Day and we’re SO excited!! We’ve got one book from our friends at Lee and Low Books that we’re talking about today, and two more we’ll mention below that are also must-reads. But before you get the scoop about Little Melba and Her Big Trombone, learn about the origins of MCCBD and help us celebrate and promote diversity in kidlit. Use the hashtag #ReadYourWorld and spread the word!


THE MISSION OF MULTICULTURAL CHILDREN’S BOOK DAY: 

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day, Mia and Valarie are on a mission to change all of that. Their mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these types of books into classrooms and libraries. Another goal of this exciting event is to create a compilation of books and favorite reads that will provide not only a new reading list for the winter, but also a way to expose brilliant books to families, teachers, and libraries.

The co-creators of this unique event are Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom and Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book/Audrey Press. You can find a bio for Mia and Valarie here.

You can find the MCCBD blog and links to all the other participating sites here.

Little Melba and her Big TromboneREVIEW: Little Melba and Her Big Trombone                                                                                  

Pick an instrument, any instrument – would you pick the trombone? Well, in Little Melba and Her Big Trombone, (Lee and Low, $18.95, Ages 4-8) by Katheryn Russell-Brown with illustrations by Frank Morrison, that’s exactly what Melba Doretta Liston did and never once looked back! This eye-opening fictionalized picture book biography recounts the story of a jazz pioneer whose contribution to the music industry is presented in irresistible prose and artwork certain to get your toes tapping and fingers snapping.

Born in pre-Depression Kansas City, Melba had the music in her from an early age. In fact making music would always matter to Melba. It was easy to be influenced when “avenues were lined with jazz club, street bands, and folks harmonizing on every corner.” From blues to jazz to gospel, Melba loved it all and soaked up all the sounds around her. At age seven she chose a “shiny trombone: from the traveling music store and, with the help of her grandpa and her keen ear, Melba learned how to play it.

little melba int spread

Interior artwork from Little Melba and her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown with illustrations by Frank Morrison, Lee & Low Books, ©2014.

In the years following the Depression, things got tough financially for Melba’s mom so together the two moved to Los Angeles where Melba’s trombone talent really took off. Eventually, when she was just seventeen, Melba toured the country with trumpeter Gerald Wilson’s band. With the popularity of jazz sweeping the nation, Melba’s prowess on her beloved brass instrument stood out on stages everywhere. “She composed and arranged music, spinning rhythms, harmonies, and melodies into gorgeous songs.”

 

This young woman was a musical force to be reckoned with. But the harsh realities of racial segregation she and the band experienced while touring down South meant “some white folks didn’t show good manners toward folks with brown skin.” This brought Melba to the brink of quitting, but ultimately she persevered, playing her horn with the likes of “Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Quincy Jones and more.” She even toured briefly with Billie Holiday. Melba’s career took her around the world and garnered her numerous awards including being named Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts, “the highest honor the U.S. gives to a jazz artist.”

Helpful back matter includes an Afterword, a Selected Discography and Author’s Sources. This pioneering, brass playing woman has left a legacy of music to learn and love, as well as a tale that begged to be told. I’m thrilled Russell-Brown found Melba’s inspiring story and conveyed it so beautifully. Russell-Brown’s words coupled with Morrison’s warm and spirited illustrations take us back in time so when we’re done reading we feel as if we’ve been on the road with Melba Liston, and that’s really something special!  – Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

LendaHandcvr Check out Lee and Low Books today for these and other diverse books:The Hula-Hoopin' Queen cvr
Lend a Hand and The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen.

RELATED ACTIVITY: Make a musical instrument with your child

Simply get an empty toilet paper roll, scissors, wax paper, a rubber band (or masking tape), fun stickers, and something sharp like the point of the scissors (NOTE: for parents to do only!). Cut a piece of the wax paper that is large enough to completely cover the hole at one end with room to spare for fastening it down. Use a rubber band or masking tape to hold the wax paper in place. One option is to make small holes in the wax paper then have your child decorate the toilet roll with stickers or patterned duct tape and try out the sound. Another option is to make one hole in the part of the toilet paper roll that is not covered by the wax paper, and no holes in the wax paper. Have your child ompare the sounds these two types of kazoos make. Try making the instrument with a paper towel roll instead. Is the sound any different using a long paper roll? Will more holes cut into the toilet paper roll or paper towel rolls make the sounds change?

MORE ABOUT MULTICULTURAL CHILDREN’S BOOK DAY
MCCBD Diversity Book Lists and Resources for Educators and Parents is now available.
http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/multicultural-reading-resources/diversity-book-lists-for-kids/

MCCBD’s new Facebook page
MCCBD’s new Twitter using #ReadYourWorld

(more…)

The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra: The Sound of Joy is Enlightening by Chris Raschka

The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra: The Sound of Joy is Enlightening, written and illustrated by Chris Raschka (Candlewick Press, 2014, $15.99, ages 5-9), is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

Raschka-Sun-Ra.cvr

The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra: The Sound of Joy is Enlightening written and illustrated by Chris Raschka, Candlewick Press, 2014.

Chris Raschka’s picture book biography about Sun Ra, comes just in time for the 100th anniversary of his birth (May 22, 1914). Born Herman Blount in Birmingham, Alabama, Sun Ra believed that he came from the planet Saturn. Raschka playfully encourages his readers to imagine this is true and illustrates Sun Ra’s trip to earth with an astronaut-like figure blasting off from Saturn. Like any good traveler, Sun Ra was interested in everything around him, especially music, since it “ …was the one thing about earth that was most like the stars.”

An exceptional musician from childhood, Sun Ra formed an orchestra called the Arkestra, which traveled throughout the world. Raschka compares them to “ … sailors on a boat bound for a new world … of sound.” It was music, Sun Ra believed, not gravity, that held people together. On May 30, 1993, Sun Ra returned to Saturn.

Raschka, a two-time Caldecott award winner (The Hello, Goodbye Window and A Ball for Daisy), has introduced young children to the language and sounds of jazz in previous picture book biographies (Mysterious Thelonious and John Coltrane’s Giant Steps). Raschka captures the exuberance and energy of Sun Ra’s music in vibrant and colorful illustrations and accessible language. Back matter includes a brief biographical sketch and, along with the end pages, a list of recordings. Given starred review by Kirkus and School Library Journal, this inspirational book of an innovative and exceptional musician is highly recommended and must be accompanied by his music (see below)!

Visit the publisher, Candlewick Press, to download Raschka’s notes and the NPR blog Act Like You Know: Sun Ra by Patrick Jarenwattananon (May 22, 2014) for further information and to hear some of his compositions.

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