• Review
By – October 19, 2021

Many young read­ers may be unfa­mil­iar with tra­di­tion­al Jew­ish klezmer music played at com­mu­nal cel­e­bra­tions and con­certs, but they will still enjoy this inven­tive pic­ture book. Kyra Teis’s jazzy, free-verse text approx­i­mates the rhythm of the music itself, while her col­or­ful and kinet­ic pic­tures make the world of klezmer acces­si­ble and excit­ing. Both an infor­ma­tion­al book and a work of poet­ry, Klezmer! immers­es both chil­dren and adults in a unique cul­tur­al experience.

Music can­not be con­tained with­in the pages of a book, but Teis’s rhymes and images give read­ers a vivid sense of her sub­ject. Fol­low­ing a young girl on her jour­ney through a New York City neigh­bor­hood, Teis brings all the essen­tial ele­ments of klezmer into view. There are clar­inets and vio­lins, the Low­er East Side, lov­ing grand­par­ents, as well as mul­ti­cul­tur­al and multi­gen­er­a­tional musi­cians. A fid­dle is wist­ful, play­ing a memory/​across its strings,” but the ensem­ble can also Turn up the heat!” as a Clar­inet squawks and bleats.” Instead of explain­ing the dif­fer­ent instru­ments and his­tor­i­cal ori­gins of klezmer music, the author and illus­tra­tor presents them as a visu­al and aur­al per­for­mance. She com­pares the cre­ation of this musi­cal form to a cook fol­low­ing a recipe, pro­duc­ing a drain-in-the-bowl,/touch the soul/​groove.”

Turn­ing the pages of the book, read­ers feel pulled into the action of a musi­cal event. Teis com­bines col­or­ful scenes of peo­ple inter­act­ing with col­lage, includ­ing pho­tos. The result­ing pic­tures seem almost three-dimen­sion­al, as in a wed­ding scene where peo­ple you might find in your fam­i­ly albums sup­port a draw­ing of a musi­cal staff topped by the bride and groom. In anoth­er infor­ma­tive pic­ture, a small boat car­ry­ing pho­tographed immi­grants hold­ing draw­ings of instru­ments approach­es the Stat­ue of Lib­er­ty in New York Har­bor. A block of text against the blue back­ground of the ocean con­tains fac­tu­al and poet­ic words: From shtetl to here,/klezmer catch­es your ear.” Authen­tic his­tor­i­cal posters of klezmer artists also appear in con­tem­po­rary scenes, empha­siz­ing the time­less­ness of this art form.

Intro­duc­ing chil­dren to joy­ful parts of the Jew­ish past is always enrich­ing. When the past con­tin­ues into the present, this exchange is even bet­ter. From accor­dion to bass, from uptown to down­town, the sounds and sto­ries of klezmer come alive in this book.

This high­ly rec­om­mend­ed pic­ture book­in­cludes an after­word, About Klezmer Music,” and a QR code for a klezmer performance.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

Discussion Questions