Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Write On, Irving Berlin!

Write On, Irving Berlin!

Leslie Kimmelman
Illustrator:  David C. Gardner 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Sleeping Bear Press, 2018   ISBN: 978-1585363803

Israel Isidore Baline was born in Russia in 1888 and like so many other Jews, Israel, his parents, and his siblings were subjected to cruel and often deadly anti-Semitic attacks. After the Balines’ home was deliberately burned to the ground in a pogrom it was decided that they should leave Russia.

They boarded a ship and after eleven days at sea they arrived in America. The Balines settled in the Lower East Side in New York City, a crowded area that they shared with countless other poor immigrant families.

Israel, or Izzy as he was now called, went to school and learned English, but he was not very good at paying attention in class. He was too busy singing songs to himself and daydreaming. Izzy’s father had been a cantor back in Russia so it was not too surprising that his son would also have a fondness for music.

When Izzy’s father died, Izzy left school and took on singing jobs in saloons, in choruses, and as a singing waiter. He even began to write songs. First he only wrote the lyrics, but then he began to write the tunes for the songs as well. Since he did not know how to write music, someone wrote the tunes down for him.

In the early 1900s, Ragtime music was all the rage and soon Izzy, who now called himself Irving Berlin, wrote songs in this style. His song, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, was a great success. It was only the first of many popular songs that Irving wrote. In fact he wrote songs continuously for the rest of his life, and many of his songs are still enormously popular today.

This delightful picture book perfectly captures Irving Berlin’s love of music, and his passion for sharing his music with others. The author’s obvious admiration for Irving comes through in her narrative, and readers will quickly come to appreciate that there was a lot about Irving Berlin to admire.