Tag Archives: Judaism

Perfect Pairing – of Artist Biographies

I love reading biographies, and when they feature the lives of artists, including illustrations that mimic the work of artists, they’re beautiful to read, too.

Out of this World: The Surreal Art of Leonora Carrington

Author: Michelle Markel

Illustrator: Amanda Hall

Publisher/Date: Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers/2019

Ages: 4-8

Themes: biography, female artist, surrealism, refugee

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Ever since she was a little girl, Leonora Carrington loved to draw on walls, in books, on paper—and she loved the fantastic tales her grandmother told that took her to worlds that shimmered beyond this one, where legends became real.

Leonora’s parents wanted her to become a proper English lady, but there was only one thing she wanted, even if it was unsuitable: to become an artist. In London, she discovered a group of artists called surrealists, who were stunning the world with their mysterious creations. This was the kind of art she had to make. This was the kind of person she had to be.

From life in Paris creating art alongside Max Ernst to Mexico, where she met Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Leonora’s life became intertwined with the powerful events and people that shaped the twentieth century.

Out of This World is the fascinating and stunningly illustrated story of Leonora Carrington, a girl who made art out of her imagination and created some of the most enigmatic and startling works of the last eighty years.

Read my review.

Through the Window: Views of Marc Chagall’s Life and Art

Author: Barb Rosenstock

Illustrator: Mary Grandpré

Publisher/Date: Alfred A. Knopf/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: biography, modern art, refugee, Judaism

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A gorgeous, expressive picture-book biography of Marc Chagall by the Caldecott Honor team behind The Noisy Paint Box.

Through the window, the student sees . . .
His future–butcher, baker, blacksmith, but turns away.
A classmate sketching a face from a book. His mind blossoms.
The power of pictures. He draws and erases, dreams in color while Papa worries.
A folder of pages laid on an art teacher’s desk. Mama asks, Does this boy have talent?
Pursed lips, a shrug, then a nod, and a new artist is welcomed. 
His brave heart flying through the streets, on a journey unknowable.

Known for both his paintings and stained-glass windows, Marc Chagall rose from humble beginnings to become one of the world’s most renowned artists. Admired for his use of color and the powerful emotion in his work, Chagall led a career that spanned decades and continents, and he never stopped growing. This lyrical narrative shows readers, through many different windows, the pre-WWI childhood and wartime experiences that shaped Chagall’s path.

From the same team behind the Caldecott Honor Book The Noisy Paint Box, which was about the artist Kandinksy, Through the Window is a stunning book that, through Chagall’s life and work, demonstrates how art has the power to be revolutionary.

Read my review.

I paired these books because both feature artists who defied familial and societal expectations to fulfill their dreams of creating gorgeous art. They also both left their homelands to achieve artistic success. And while readers may be more familiar with the work of Marc Chagall, Leonora Carrington was a gifted artist whose work remains popular today.

Looking for similar reads?

See, Vincent Can’t Sleep: Van Gogh Paints the Night Sky (Rosenstock/GrandPré, 2017), The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art (Rosenstock/GrandPré, 2014).

Perfect Pairing – a Triple Treat!

It’s a special week! Not just because we celebrate a national holiday on Thursday, fire crackers and all, and not just because my music-loving son celebrates a birthday, but because for the first and maybe only time, I’m “pairing” three picture books! Strike up the band – you’re in for a triple treat!

 

God Bless America: The Story of an Immigrant Named Irving Berlin

Author: Adah Nuchi

Illustrator: Rob Polivka

Publisher/Date: Disney Hyperion/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: biography, composer, refugee, immigrant, patriotism, music, singing, Judaism

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

An inspiring portrait of an immigrant and the gift he gave his new home.
Persecuted as Jews, Izzy Baline and his family emigrated from Russia to New York, where he fell in love with his new country. He heard music everywhere and was full to bursting with his own. Izzy’s thump-two-three, ting-a-ling, whee tunes soon brought him acclaim as the sought-after songwriter Irving Berlin. He ignited the imaginations of fellow countrymen and women with his Broadway and Hollywood numbers, crafting tunes that have become classics we still sing today.
But when darker times came and the nation went to war, it was time for Irving to compose a new kind of song:
boom-rah-rah song.
A big brass belter.
A loud heart-melter.
A song for America.
And so “God Bless America” was born, the heart swelling standard that Americans have returned to again and again after its 1918 composition.
This is the tale of how a former refugee gave America one of its most celebrated patriotic songs. With stirring, rhythmic text by Adah Nuchi and delightful, energetic art by Rob Polivka, readers will be ready to hum along to this exuberant picturebook.

Read a review in The Jewish Book Council.

Irving Berlin: The Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing

Author: Nancy Churnin

Illustrator: James Rey Sanchez

Publisher/Date: Creston Books/2018

Ages: 7-12

Themes: biography, composer, refugee, immigrant, patriotism, music, singing, Judaism

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Irving Berlin came to the United States as a refugee from Tsarist Russia, escaping a pogrom that destroyed his village. Growing up on the streets of the lower East Side, the rhythms of jazz and blues inspired his own song-writing career. Starting with his first big hit, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” Berlin created the soundtrack for American life with his catchy tunes and irresistible lyrics. With “God Bless America,” he sang his thanks to the country which had given him a home and a chance to express his creative vision.

Read my review.

Write On, Irving Berlin!

Author: Leslie Kimmelman

Illustrator: David C. Gardner

Publisher/Date: Sleeping Bear Press/2018

Ages: 6-9

Themes: biography, composer, immigrant, patriotism, music, singing, Judaism

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

2019 Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Younger Readers 2018 Eureka! California Reading Association Honor Book Award
Escaping persecution for being Jewish, the Baline family fled Russia and arrived by ship in New York City harbor in September 1893. Little Israel Isidore Baline is only five years old. After arriving at Ellis Island, the first stop for all immigrants, Israel and his family are ready to begin a new life in America. His family settles in the Lower East Side and soon Israel (now nicknamed Izzy) starts school. And while he learns English, he is not a very good student. According to his teachers he daydreams and sings in class. But while these may not be traits that are helpful in the classroom, these are wonderful tools for a budding singer and composer. And by the time that Izzy (now known as Irving) is a young man, he is well on his way to becoming one of the most well-known composers in America. This vivid picture-book biography examines the life of Irving Berlin, the distinguished artist whose songs, including “God Bless America,” continue to be popular today.

Read a review in The Jewish Book Council.

I “paired” these books because they recount the life and music of the composer of “God Bless America”. Although all are “cradle-to-grave” biographies, and although they feature the iconic Berlin song, I loved reading the three together, as I appreciated the various nuances: Nuchi utilizes onomatopoeia to achieve musicality in the text; Churnin begins her exploration as Berlin and his family are sailing away from Russia and towards America and references Berlin’s inclusion of Jewish prayer in the melody; and Kimmelman, who also introduces the tragic scene in Russia at the outset, repeats the phrase, “God bless America” throughout the text.

And while the reason for three picture book biographies published virtually simultaneously may be the 100th anniversary of Berlin’s composition, I think it’s important to consider other aspects of Berlin’s life that resonate today, such as his status as refugee and immigrant and the important role his Jewish faith played in life and music.

I am indebted to Maria Marshall, who reviews picture books and interviews authors and illustrators at The Picture Book Buzz, for alerting me to the existence of these three biographies and for her fabulous interview with the three authors. See a wonderful review of these books by Marjorie Ingall in The Tablet.

PPBF – Through the Window: Views of Marc Chagall’s Life and Art

Yesterday was World Refugee Day. This week, Refugee Week is celebrated in many parts of the world. When we think of refugees, we don’t often remember that famous artists, like Irving Berlin, the subject of my review last week, and the subject of today’s Perfect Picture Book, were refugees, too. Thankfully, both found refuge when they needed it.

Title: Through the Window: Views of Marc Chagall’s Life and Art

Written By: Barb Rosenstock

Illustrated By: Mary GrandPré

Publisher/Date: Alfred A. Knopf/2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: modern art, refugee, biography, Judaism

Opening:

Through the window, the boy sees…Papa, trudging home from work, wool coat shiny with the salt of fish. Mama, sprinkling today’s gossip like bits of sugar from her shop next door.

Brief Synopsis: The biography of the modern artist, Marc Chagall, a young boy who observed life outside his window in Russia, dreamt of color, fled to Paris and then New York, and created paintings, sculptures and stained glass.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

In lyrical language that mimics the rhythms of Chagall’s autobiography, Rosenstock recounts this artist’s life from boyhood to his last artistic undertakings. In text that summons up several of Chagall’s masterpieces, Rosenstock asks readers to notice what Chagall, as boy, student, misfit, painter, revolutionary, and master, saw and created. I love how Rosenstock draws our attention to the illustrations and to Chagall’s dreams that became his artistic creations.

I also appreciate how Rosenstock recounts where and why Chagall moved, without letting that overwhelm the focus on his artistry. We learn that Chagall fled Russia to escape anti-Semitism and the “glittering city” of St. Petersburg, filled with many poor people who were ignored; that he grew disillusioned with the authoritarian Soviet government, and fled once again to Paris; and that he sought refuge in America when “war stomps across France.”  Had America not accorded Chagall refugee status, this Jewish artist may not have survived the Holocaust.

We also learn that Chagall did not begin creating the stained glass windows for which he is so famous until after these experiences, when he was older (in the Author’s Note, we learn that Chagall was 70 when he designed his first original window). I appreciate Rosenstock’s focus on Chagall’s “second career”, as I think it shows readers that talent doesn’t end when someone reaches a certain age, and that it’s never too late to try new pursuits.

GrandPré’s rich acrylic on board illustrations utilize Chagall’s rich palette and further the reader’s immersion into his life and work.

A Note about Craft:

Rosenstock uses a window motif to organize Chagall’s life by age, location and work. She repeats “[t]hrough the window” seven times, each time showing the reader what Chagall sees. I think this is a wonderful way to provide repetition in the text and tie different stages of Chagall’s life together, especially since, as Rosenstock shares in an Author’s Note, Chagall “was fascinated by views glimpsed through windows” from an early age and created art featuring windows. In a twist at the end, though, Rosenstock notes, “Through Marc’s windows, we see…”, and then proceeds to describe components of  Chagall’s stained glass windows. I love how this draws the reader into the story and invites us to discover what we can see.

This Perfect Picture Book entry will be added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story

Today’s Perfect Picture Book is a new picture book that tells a story rooted in the past that sheds light on issues relevant today.

Title: Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story

Written By: Lesléa Newman

Illustrated By: Amy June Bates

Publisher/Date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2019

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes/Topics: immigration, Judaism, Ellis Island, mother-child relationship, bravery

Opening:

“Gittel, will you write to me from America?” Raisa asked.

Brief Synopsis: A young Jewish girl and her mother leave their Eastern European village, but when her mother’s health precludes her from boarding the ship to America, Gittel must journey alone to this strange and faraway land.

Links to Resources:

  • Have you moved to a new house, city, or country? How did you feel? List three things you miss from your old home and three things you like about your new home;
  • Raisa gives Gittel a rag doll to accompany her on the journey. What favorite item or items would you bring on a journey?
  • Interview an older relative or friend to learn about his or her life when s/he was young;
  • Are there items from the past that your family treasures? Ask why those items are important;
  • Gittel arrives to the US at Ellis Island. Learn more about Ellis Island and US immigration.

Why I Like this Book:

With longer text than most current fiction picture books, Gittel’s Journey reads like a story from the era in which it is based. Opening with a scene including a beloved farm animal and best friend, Gittel’s Journey follows Gittel and her mother as they leave their eastern European village and travel to a seaside port. There, Gittel’s mother is refused passage because she appears to have an eye infection. This denial reminded me of the current concern about measles in the US.

I think kids will empathize with Gittel’s fear as she leaves her mother and embarks on the journey to an unknown land. I think they’ll be curious about the candlesticks that Gittel brings with her. They also may be surprised to learn how the story ends and how she reunites with new relatives without the aid of computer databases or smartphone messaging.

As the debate about immigration continues today and as the history of prior waves of immigrants fades from memory, this is an important book for home and classroom discussion and libraries.

Bates’ muted color palette evokes an earlier era. The block-print boarders that surround each page and illustration reminded me of picture frames and contributed to the historical feel.

A Note about Craft:

In an Author’s Note, Newman shares that Gittel’s Journey is based on two true stories from her childhood: the journey of her grandmother and great-grandmother from the “old country” of Poland/Russia to America and a similar journey of a family friend, whose adult companion was denied passage due to health reasons. In an essay in the Jewish Book Council, Newman explains that she remembered these stories from her childhood and decided to write this historical fiction story when she saw images of Syrian refugees in boats. What stories from your past shed light on issues relevant today?

Visit Newman’s website to see more of her adult and children’s books.

Visit Bates’ website to see more of her illustrations. Bates illustrated My Old Pal, Oscar, that I reviewed a few years ago.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!