Write On, Irv­ing Berlin!

Leslie Kim­mel­man;‎ David C. Gard­ner, illus.

  • Review
By – May 1, 2018

Among the many immi­grants arriv­ing in New York Har­bor in 1893 were the mem­bers of the Baline fam­i­ly. And among the six Baline chil­dren was five-year-old Israel, soon to be nick­named Izzy. He was des­tined to become one of America’s great­est song­writ­ers. When Izzy was thir­teen, his father died, and Izzy dropped out of school and began to earn mon­ey by singing. Soon, he wrote the words to his first song, sign­ing the music with his new Amer­i­can name — I. Berlin. He would ulti­mate­ly write 1,500 songs dur­ing his lifetime.

How a poor boy who could not read or write music grew up to be rec­og­nized as a musi­cal genius can­not be explained. But hav­ing an innate tal­ent was not enough — he also had an end­less capac­i­ty to work and a fierce desire to improve. His lyrics, such as those for God Bless Amer­i­ca,” doubt­less his best-known song, are mem­o­rable because they hon­est­ly express the pas­sion­ate love he had for his adopt­ed country.

The soft­ly col­ored and expres­sive illus­tra­tions of Berlin, from child­hood to old age, show an eter­nal­ly opti­mistic and hard­work­ing man, delight­ed with his fam­i­ly, his coun­try, and the good for­tune he found. An author’s note includes oth­er inter­est­ing facts: for exam­ple, Berlin received the Medal of Mer­it from Pres­i­dent Har­ry S. Tru­man and the Con­gres­sion­al Medal of Hon­or from Pres­i­dent Dwight D. Eisen­how­er. Berlin’s favorite songs as well as sug­ges­tions for fur­ther read­ing are also included.

Susan Kan­tor was a senior writer/​editor for Girl Scouts of the USA, a chil­dren’s book edi­tor, and a past judge for the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Awards in the illus­trat­ed children’s book cat­e­go­ry. She is a writer and a docent at the Rubin Muse­um in New York City, where she leads pub­lic and pri­vate tours.

Discussion Questions