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.

Terezin: Voices from the Holocaust

Terezín: Voices from the Holocaust by Ruth Thomson is about the World War II Terezín transit camp, called Theresienstadt by the Germans. Using excerpts from secret diaries and memoirs, as well as artwork from artists who were imprisoned there, the author lets the camp inhabitants tell the story of their experiences firsthand.

What first catches your eye about this book is the art, which is to be expected because Ruth Thomson was inspired to research the book when she found prints by the Czech artist Leo Haas. Haas, as well as other Jewish artists imprisoned at Terezín, secretly recorded life in the camp while being forced to produce propaganda art for the Germans. Thomson had seen the art and wanted to learn more about the place where it was created.

It turned out that this transition camp was where thousands of Jews were held before being sent to the death camps. Many of the prisoners were forced to work on projects, such as splitting the mica that was used as airplane windshields. At night the prisoners tried to keep their spirits up with secret meetings, lectures and plays.

Thomson does not shy away from the grim details of the thousands who died at the camp, many of starvation and disease. In one heartbreaking section, she describes how artist Friedl Dicker-Brandeis taught hundreds of captive children how to make collages, puppets and draw and sew. She managed to hide two suitcases full of some 4000 pieces of art by children before she was sent to Auschwitz in 1944, thus saving them, but not herself, for posterity.

Towards the end the Germans used Theresienstadt as a “show camp” to convince the Red Cross and others that they were treating their prisoners well, even though in reality the conditions were horrific.

Terezín will be useful for mature middle graders studying the Holocaust. It is an eyeopening account that is likely to stay with you.

It has been nominated for a Cybils award in the MG/YA nonfiction category.

Reading level: Ages 10 and up ( I would say 12 and up).
Hardcover: 64 pages
Publisher: Candlewick Press (February 22, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0763649635
ISBN-13: 978-0763649630

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

America Is Under Attack: September 11, 2001

America Is Under Attack: September 11, 2001: The Day the Towers Fell by Don Brown recounts the events of September 11 in a way that is easy to comprehend for children who were either very young or had not even been born yet when the attacks occurred. 

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up this book. Would it be too harsh a reminder of incidents still horrifically recent in the minds of many adults? Turns out the tone is pitch perfect for the targeted age group. Moving through the day’s happenings in chronological order, spotlighting personal stories of heroism and tragedy, makes the chaos of the day more easy to understand as a whole, and much more human.

Don Brown also illustrated this book. His watercolors capture the movement and sense of disarray of the events of the day, yet the softer lines and caricature style lessen the emotional impact enough that the reader isn’t overwhelmed by them.

I know some parents have tried to shield their children from the realities of September 11, 2001. When the children are ready to investigate the significance of that day, this is a superb book to introduce the topic. It is also perfect reading to accompany September 11 observances.

This book was nominated for a Cybils in the MG/YA category.

Aside:  Have you ever seen Meg Cabot’s incredibly moving essay about her very personal experiences that day?

For more reviews, see:

Geo Librarian
Nonfiction Detectives

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 64 pages
Publisher: Flash Point (August 16, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1596436948
ISBN-13: 978-1596436947

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

Dog Heroes

Today let’s look at Magic Tree House Fact Tracker #24 called Dog Heroes, which is a Nonfiction Companion to Magic Tree House #46: Dogs in the Dead of Night by Mary Pope Osborne and Natalie Pope Boyce  and illustrated by Sal Murdocca. Dog Heroes has been nominated for a Cybils in the MG/YA nonfiction category.

This middle-grade book is just what you would expect from the popular Magic Tree House series. After going into a quick chapter with overall information about dogs, the authors regale the reader with enchanting stories of search and rescue dogs, dogs that responded to 9-11, all about service dogs, and famous dog heroes. It’s all enough to give even a cat lover the warm fuzzies.

The illustrations in the book alternate between black and white photographs of actual dog heroes, and fun and age-appropriate drawings by Sal Murdocca.

Cybils notes:  Although this book has loads of kid appeal, it really targets a slightly younger age group. Emergent readers, third and fourth graders love these books. That isn’t to say older kids wouldn’t enjoy these wonderful stories about dogs, but they probably would not want to be caught carrying the book around. Too bad, because it doesn’t fit the nonfiction picture book category either.

What do you think? Do you know middle graders who admit reading Magic Tree House books?

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 128 pages
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (August 9, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0375860126
ISBN-13: 978-0375860126

As a companion to:

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