Music was IT: Young Leonard Bernstein

Music Was It: Young Leonard Bernstein by Susan Goldman Rubin is a warm and personal biography of the famous conductor and composer. It has been nominated for a Cybils award in the MG/YA nonfiction category.

Starting with a reminiscence by his daughter, Jamie Bernstein, the book follows with an account of young Leonard’s formative years. Leonard was obsessed with music at an early age. His father, however, wanted Leonard to take up a more practical career. Somehow Leonard always managed to find a way to study music, and the story concludes with his  conducting debut with the New York Philharmonic at the unheard of age of twenty-five.

The Epilogue contains a quick overview of Bernstein’s adult life. Following a detailed Timeline are mini-biographies of many of Bernstein’s friends and colleagues.

If any book should be packaged with a CD, this is IT! 🙂 The book does have a “Discography” of recommended music, but I was constantly thinking, I wonder what that sounded like

Music Was It has gotten a lot of great buzz and Charlesbridge has a page of summaries of all the reviews, including starred reviews at Kirkus and Booklist.

What can I add? Actually, while reading this I had to remember Terezín: Voices from the Holocaust by Ruth Thomson that I reviewed last week. There are many commonalities and parallel events, and yet also stark contrasts. Bernstein’s parents were Jews from the Ukraine region who managed to get to the United States, but whose parents were still there when World War II broke out. His father was able to bring his parents to the United States just in time.

Things in the United States were obviously much better, but racism was still a part of their lives. Bernstein’s family was only allowed to summer in Sharon, a lakeside town outside of Boston, because Jews were not welcome in other country towns. Bernstein was able to attend Harvard University, but only a few Jews were permitted to enter each year and many of the faculty and students were anti-Semitic.

In Terezín the prisoners maintained some hope by putting on plays and musicals in secret at night. Bernstein organized plays and musicals as a teenager during his summers at Sharon and ended up composing West Side Story, one of the most famous musicals ever. Reading the two stories so close together makes one ponder not only about all the fabulous talent that was wasted, but also how being in the right place at the right time (or in the wrong place in the wrong time) can determine the outcome of a person’s entire life.

This tale of a young man who followed his passion for music is sure to resonate with young musicians and artists, but is inspiring to anyone who wants to follow their dream.

Note: Susan Goldman Rubin also wrote the Cybils nominee Wideness & Wonder: The Life and Art of Georgia O’Keeffe.

Reading level: Ages 10 and up
School & Library Binding: 178 pages
Publisher: Charlesbridge Pub Inc (February 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1580893449
ISBN-13: 978-1580893442

Be sure to look for more information about children’s books at today’s Book Talk Tuesday.


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