WRITE ON, IRVING BERLIN!

A Jewish immigrant’s passage from pogroms in Russia to “God Bless America”—written 100 years ago to celebrate his beloved adopted home.

Irving Berlin, born in 1888, was just a child when his family and so many others fled terror directed at Jews in czarist Russia for New York City’s Lower East Side. It was a crowded, dirty, and very poor neighborhood of immigrants, but it allowed a musical boy who had never studied music to grow up and write songs. Israel, his given name, was not a good student in school, but, a cantor’s son, he had a head full of tunes. Early success led to music composed for fellow soldiers during World War I and then music written for Broadway and the movies. It was during World War II that he “took out and polished up a song he’d written long ago.” That song was “God Bless America,” which is still sung and loved—albeit over the initial protests of those who were not pleased that a Jewish immigrant was the composer and lyricist. “White Christmas,” written during World War II, was also immediately taken to heart despite the same racist, anti-Semitic objections. More success and many more great and still popular songs followed. Gardner’s illustrations are colorful and soft-textured, displaying many smiling faces of Berlin as he ages. Musical notes swirl through the pages.

Heartwarming Americana. (author’s note, selected songs, further reading) (Picture book/biography. 6-9)

Pub Date: May 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58536-380-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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A unique angle on a watershed moment in the civil rights era.

I AM RUBY BRIDGES

The New Orleans school child who famously broke the color line in 1960 while surrounded by federal marshals describes the early days of her experience from a 6-year-old’s perspective.

Bridges told her tale to younger children in 2009’s Ruby Bridges Goes to School, but here the sensibility is more personal, and the sometimes-shocking historical photos have been replaced by uplifting painted scenes. “I didn’t find out what being ‘the first’ really meant until the day I arrived at this new school,” she writes. Unfrightened by the crowd of “screaming white people” that greets her at the school’s door (she thinks it’s like Mardi Gras) but surprised to find herself the only child in her classroom, and even the entire building, she gradually realizes the significance of her act as (in Smith’s illustration) she compares a small personal photo to the all-White class photos posted on a bulletin board and sees the difference. As she reflects on her new understanding, symbolic scenes first depict other dark-skinned children marching into classes in her wake to friendly greetings from lighter-skinned classmates (“School is just school,” she sensibly concludes, “and kids are just kids”) and finally an image of the bright-eyed icon posed next to a soaring bridge of reconciliation. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

A unique angle on a watershed moment in the civil rights era. (author and illustrator notes, glossary) (Autobiographical picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-338-75388-2

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Orchard/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2022

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Blandly inspirational fare made to evoke equally shrink-wrapped responses.

BASKETBALL DREAMS

An NBA star pays tribute to the influence of his grandfather.

In the same vein as his Long Shot (2009), illustrated by Frank Morrison, this latest from Paul prioritizes values and character: “My granddad Papa Chilly had dreams that came true,” he writes, “so maybe if I listen and watch him, / mine will too.” So it is that the wide-eyed Black child in the simply drawn illustrations rises early to get to the playground hoops before anyone else, watches his elder working hard and respecting others, hears him cheering along with the rest of the family from the stands during games, and recalls in a prose afterword that his grandfather wasn’t one to lecture but taught by example. Paul mentions in both the text and the backmatter that Papa Chilly was the first African American to own a service station in North Carolina (his presumed dream) but not that he was killed in a robbery, which has the effect of keeping the overall tone positive and the instructional content one-dimensional. Figures in the pictures are mostly dark-skinned. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

Blandly inspirational fare made to evoke equally shrink-wrapped responses. (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2023

ISBN: 978-1-250-81003-8

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2022

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