The Singer and the Scientist

Lisa Rose, Isabel Muñoz (Illus­tra­tor)

By – July 19, 2021

Part of the appeal of this bio­graph­i­cal pic­ture book lies in the jux­ta­po­si­tion of two fig­ures not usu­al­ly seen togeth­er in books for chil­dren. Most­will have heard of sci­en­tist Albert Ein­stein. Sad­ly, not as many may be famil­iar with the artistry or courage of Black opera singer Mar­i­an Ander­son. The Singer and the Sci­en­tist traces the mutu­al respect and friend­ship of these two indi­vid­u­als, each a leader in his or her own field. The Jew­ish refugee from Nazi-con­trolled Europe was drawn to Anderson’s incred­i­ble musi­cal gifts and was hor­ri­fied by the bla­tant racism that com­pro­mised her career and threat­ened her dig­ni­ty. Ander­son, a self-assured per­former, but still a vul­ner­a­ble human being, relates to Einstein’s own expe­ri­ence as a vic­tim of hatred and wel­comes his empa­thy. Lisa Rose’s sim­ple nar­ra­tive pairs with Isabel Muñoz’s col­or­ful pic­tures to present the mov­ing sto­ry of a his­toric friendship.

The book begins with what should be a tri­umphant per­for­mance for Ander­son at Prince­ton, New Jersey’s McCarter The­atre in 1937. At the con­clu­sion of the con­cert, Rose records the singer’s exhaus­tion,” and Muñoz depicts the very human scene of the ener­getic singer sit­ting on a trunk in the wings and rub­bing her sore feet. While a white singer could look for­ward to a rest in a con­ve­nient­ly locat­ed hotel room, Ander­son learns from the arro­gant the­ater own­er that the near­by Nas­sau Inn is a whites-only hotel.” The recent applause by her audi­ence has frozen into silence, prov­ing the hol­low­ness of their acclaim. When Albert Ein­stein, the man with the wild white hair from the front row,” approach­es Ander­son to offer his hos­pi­tal­i­ty, the friend­ship between singer and sci­en­tist begins.

To advance the pic­ture of their rela­tion­ship beyond this one inci­dent, Rose depicts Ein­stein as a mem­ber of the com­mu­ni­ty, social­iz­ing with his Black neigh­bors. He has more than one rea­son for his admi­ra­tion for Ander­son: his own love of music as well as a past of per­se­cu­tion. Rose men­tions Einstein’s famous the­o­ry of rel­a­tiv­i­ty and its vio­lent rejec­tion by the Nazis as a form of cor­rupt Jew­ish sci­ence.” The tragedy of Anderson’s empa­thy is also implic­it: She under­stood what it meant to be treat­ed as an out­sider in one’s own coun­try.” Since Ein­stein fled a dic­ta­tor­ship but Ander­son was a cit­i­zen of the demo­c­ra­t­ic Unit­ed States, the com­par­i­son between her mar­gin­al­ized sta­tus and her friend’s reveals a sad truth.

Muñoz’s pic­tures are beau­ti­ful, cap­tur­ing both the dis­tant glam­or and the ter­ri­ble inequal­i­ty of the era. Ein­stein has his famil­iar big, white hair but Muñoz por­trays Ander­son with nuance and per­cep­tive­ness. She is del­i­cate­ly slen­der, with an expres­sive face that shows a range of emo­tions from com­plete absorp­tion in her singing to frus­tra­tion at racist mis­treat­ment. Enjoy­ing an evening with Ein­stein at this home, Ander­son is relaxed and engaged. Deep,jewel-toned col­ors reap­pear in dif­fer­ent ele­ments. Anderson’s dress and Einstein’s cardi­gan are the same shade of yel­low squash; the singer’s teal gown match­es the throw tossed over Einstein’s sofa. There are points of con­nec­tion, as well as obvi­ous dif­fer­ences, between the dis­tin­guished physi­cist and the bril­liant con­tral­to, but their warm friend­ship is a con­stant in this acces­si­ble story.

This high­ly rec­om­mend­ed sto­ry includes an infor­ma­tive author’s note about the social activism of the book’s subjects.

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

With clar­i­ty and sen­si­tiv­i­ty, author Lisa Rose and illus­tra­tor Isabel Muñoz present a mov­ing por­tray­al of the life of Mar­i­an Ander­son through the lens of her inter­ac­tions with Albert Ein­stein. The Singer and the Sci­en­tist has par­tic­u­lar sig­nif­i­cance not only because it adds new infor­ma­tion to this com­pelling sto­ry, but also because of its lit­er­ary and visu­al beau­ty. The artistry and the sto­ry are both cel­e­bra­tions that do not ignore the racial, cul­tur­al, and reli­gious insults that plagued the lives of both of these icons of achieve­ment.. This children’s book bears poignant wit­ness to the imme­di­ate and per­son­al acts of Albert Ein­stein for social jus­tice, and for friend­ship. He loved humankind and indi­vid­ual peo­ple. Mar­i­an Anderson’s life inter­sect­ed with the lives of the Jew­ish peo­ple often, from the Judaism of her grand­fa­ther to her finan­cial gifts to the musi­cians of the young state of Israel in the 1950s. We applaud Lisa Rose and Isabel Muñoz for allow­ing this sto­ry to blossom.