Tag Archives: singing

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 – Irving Berlin: The Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing

Happy Flag Day! To celebrate, let’s wave our flags, raise our voices in song, and celebrate the immigrants who contribute so much to our country, like the subject of today’s Perfect Picture Book.

Title: Irving Berlin: The Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing

Written By: Nancy Churnin

Illustrated By: James Rey Sanchez

Publisher/Date: Creston Books/2018

Suitable for Ages: 7-12

Themes/Topics: biography, composer, immigrant, patriotism, singing

Opening:

Irving stood on tiptoe to see over the rail. Behind him, too far to glimpse, was Russia where angry Cossacks had burned his family’s home to ashes. Ahead was America. What would they find there?

Brief Synopsis: A cradle-to-grave biography of Irving Berlin, a young Jewish immigrant who shared his love of his adopted homeland by composing a beloved anthem.

Links to Resources:

  • Listen to some of the over 1,500 songs that Irving Berlin composed. Do you have a favorite?
  • Listen to Kate Smith’s first performance of God Bless America;
  • Churnin features a Make America Sing page on her website, where she encourages readers to celebrate their heritage and that of classmates and friends;
  • Check out the Curriculum Guide found at Creston Books for more ideas.

Why I Like this Book:

Churnin has written a lyrical biography that introduces young readers to the composer who wrote a song that most, if not all, will recognize. But many, including adult readers,  may not know that Irving Berlin was a Jewish immigrant who as a young child fled Russia with his family to escape persecution, that he left home at 13 to support himself after his father’s death, and that he sold newspapers and was a singing waiter before composing the first of over 1,500 songs, including many popular Broadway shows. And though Berlin became rich and famous for his catchy tunes, Churnin informs readers that “he never took a penny for ‘God Bless America.’” All proceeds from that song he donated to the Girl and Boy Scouts. As Churnin notes, it was his way of sharing the “music in his heart’, his “thank you” to America, the country that opened its doors to him and other refugees in the late 19th century.

I think Churnin’s focus on Berlin’s difficult childhood will help young readers to empathize with Berlin. I think, too, that her focus on his persistence will resonate. Music lovers of all ages will enjoy learning about Berlin. Irving Berlin will make a welcome addition to classroom and home libraries.

Sanchez’ muted-tone illustrations add an early-to-mid 20th century feel to the text. I love the sense of crowding in the early, tenement scenes, and I especially love the pop of red that punctuates the drab backgrounds, generally on a long red scarf that mimics the flow of the Hudson River and the notes on a music staff.

A Note about Craft:

In a StoryStorm post this past January, Churnin advised writers interested in exploring historical topics to “make a date with history” and research important anniversaries when trying to determine who, or what, to write about. She followed her own advice, as Irving Berlin appeared on bookshelves in 2018, the 100th anniversary of God Bless America. Churnin’s latest picture book biography, Martin & Anne: The Kindred Spirits of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Anne Frank, was published in time for the 100th anniversary of the birthdays of these two important people. Who, or what, will you choose as your next non-fiction picture book topic?

In an interview on The Picture Book Buzz recently, Churnin mentioned that an “aha” moment for her occurred when a friend noted that Berlin incorporated a Jewish melody into God Bless America. This became Churnin’s “way into” the story. Identifying that “tidbit” that resonates and becomes a theme in a story is so important for any writer, but especially for someone trying to condense a long life into limited text, all while trying to make it interesting and accessible to young children. It also could be something that sets your book apart from others, just in case, as happened with the anniversary of God Bless America, you aren’t the only one writing and publishing a picture book about it.

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 – The Rooster Who Would Not be Quiet!

I chose today’s Perfect Picture Book because it’s a delightful folktale that has more than a few parallels to today’s political situation, because it pairs the words and artwork of two American immigrants, and because I’d like to think the fictional village in the story, La Paz, is somewhere in Cuba, a country I’m visiting for the first time in mid-March. This is a newly released book, but based on the reviews thus far, I think others agree that this is a Perfect Picture Book:

9780545722889_p0_v4_s118x184Title: The Rooster Who Would Not be Quiet!

Written By: Carmen Agra Deedy

Illustrated By: Eugene Yelchin

Publisher/date: Scholastic Press/2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: rooster, hero, courage, singing, freedom, protest, oppression, diversity

Opening:

Once there was a village where the streets rang with song from morning till night.

Dogs bayed, mothers crooned, engines hummed, fountains warbled, and everybody sang in the shower.

Brief Synopsis:

After a silence-loving mayor bans singing in La Paz, a rooster appears and continues to crow despite the mayor’s many attempts to silence him.

Links to Resources:

  • Paint a rooster with plastic fork “paint brushes”;
  • Find more chicken and rooster art ideas here;
  • Learn and sing kids’ songs from around the world.

Why I Like this Book:

An allegory perfect for these unique times, The Rooster Who Would Not be Quiet! is a humorous story pitting a very vocal rooster against a mayor elected to ease the annoying volume of a very noisy village. In words and pictures, Deedy and Yelchin show how the power placed in the mayor’s hands goes to his head. Signs admonishing “No Loud Singing in Public, por favor” evolve to “!Basta! Quiet, Already!” as the noisy village becomes “silent as a tomb,” with the words playfully shown on a tombstone. How strict were the laws? “Even the teakettles were afraid to whistle.” With analogies like this, even the youngest listeners will enjoy this story, while the adults chuckle, hum, and even, perhaps break out in song – “kee-kee-ree-KEE!”

Yelchin’s bright, colorful mixed-media illustrations, including seven full-page paintings, and three double spreads with only the word Kee-kee-ree-KEE, wonderfully complement and enhance Deedy’s tale, and breathe life into the village of La Paz.

A Note about Craft:

Deedy utilizes several techniques that render The Rooster Who Would Not be Quiet! a wonderful mentor text for picture book writers, and will ensure that it is enjoyed again and again in both homes and classrooms:

  • She sets the story in the village of La Paz, “the peace,” and integrates several Spanish words into the text. Deedy does so in a way that draws readers into the story and helps readers understand the terms in context. Even the rooster is referred to as the gallito who sings despite the best efforts of the mayor, Don Pepe. Most Spanish terms are italicized, which will make it easy for children to find them and discover their meaning in the surrounding text and illustrations.
  • At the outset of the tale, Deedy lists many types of song that contribute to the noise, including animal sounds, heartwarming parental sounds, industrial sounds and natural sounds. People enjoy hearing some of these, while others, like a dog braying, could be considered annoying. I think by including such a broad spectrum, Deedy draws attention to what, later, is at risk, namely the vibrant hum of the community. She also adds a further layer to the story by providing a discussion opportunity about the many pleasant and unpleasant songs in a village or town.
  • Deedy skillfully utilizes repetition in the interactions between the Gallito and the mayor. Use of repetition bolsters the feeling of a traditional folktale and helps children anticipate the results of these encounters.
  • Finally, like all good folktales, The Rooster Who Would Not be Quiet! includes a moral. Who better to deliver this message than a lowly rooster.

I can’t help but conclude this review by quoting the Author’s Note in full:

Roosters sing at sunrise; they also sing at noon, sundown, and in the middle of night. Roosters sing when they please, and that’s all there is to that.

Much like roosters, human children are born with voices strong and true – and irrepressible.

Then, bit by bit, most of us learn to temper our opinions, censor our beliefs, and quiet our voices.

But not all of us.

There are always those who resist being silenced, who will crow out their truth, without regard to consequence.

Foolhardy or wise, they are the ones who give us the courage to sing.

So crow away!

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