[review in f-sharp] Write On, Irving Berlin! by Leslie Kimmelman and David C. Gardner

“Blue skies, smiling at me, nothing but blue skies do I see.” ~ Irving Berlin (1926)

If you’re American (or a music lover anywhere else in the world), you probably know Irving Berlin’s music — even if you don’t think you do. He wrote for and about us — the average American citizen — whom he considered to be “the real soul of the country.” He wrote from the heart, easily capturing ours. George Gershwin considered Berlin to be the greatest songwriter who ever lived.

His songs are exquisite cameos of perfection, and each one of them is as beautiful as its neighbor. Irving Berlin remains, I think, America’s Schubert. But apart from his genuine talent for song-writing, Irving Berlin has had a greater influence upon American music than any other one man. It was Irving Berlin who was the very first to have created a real, inherent American music.

At Berlin’s 100th Birthday Celebration at Carnegie Hall in 1988, Walter Cronkite said:

[Berlin] helped write the story of this country, capturing the best of who we are and the dreams that shape our lives.

So when we celebrate major holidays, Berlin is there (“Easter Parade,” “White Christmas”). He’s with us when we watch a classic musical on the telly (“Top Hat,” “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” “Annie Get Your Gun”). Since many of America’s most popular singers have recorded a Berlin tune or two (Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Rosemary Clooney, Willie Nelson, Bing Crosby), all of us would have likely heard at least one of Berlin’s songs somewhere, sometime.

Most notably, whenever we gather to honor our men and women in uniform, we sing Berlin’s signature song, “God Bless America,” the lyrics of which we’ve known by heart since childhood.

Last month, a new picture book biography was released that introduces young readers to Berlin’s extraordinary life and legacy. Write On, Irving Berlin! by Leslie Kimmelman and David C. Gardner (Sleeping Bear Press, 2018), traces Berlin’s life from the time he arrived in America with his family in 1893 until his death at age 101. He wrote some 1500 songs, comprising a substantial part of the Great American Songbook.

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[review + giveaway] When Paul Met Artie: The Story of Simon and Garfunkel by G. Neri and David Litchfield

When it comes to Simon and Garfunkel, three things stand out in my memory: hearing “Homeward Bound” for the first time in a soundproof studio, waiting hours for them to arrive at the airport, and attending their 1968 concert in Honolulu.

I was a big S&G fan back in the day, belonged to a fan club whose sole purpose was to meet every rock group that performed in Hawai’i. We haunted airports and hotel lobbies, camped out overnight to score concert tickets, and sometimes got to meet our idols up close and personal at special events.

The Simon and Garfunkel concert remains in the top 5 of all shows attended in my lifetime. It still stands up against today’s large-venue extravaganzas with the big screens, sophisticated sound systems and light shows. There was just something pure, pristine and utterly transformative about those two voices and acoustic guitar. No need for any high tech razzle dazzle when you have good songs and soul-stirring, transcendent harmony.

When Paul Met Artie: The Story of Simon and Garfunkel, a fab new picture book biography for middle grade readers by G. Neri and David Litchfield (Candlewick, 2018), opens with the famous Central Park reunion concert in September 1981.

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[review + giveaway] Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten by Laura Veirs and Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

Freight train, freight train run so fast
Freight train, freight train run so fast
Please don’t tell what train I’m on
They won’t know what route I’ve gone.

So begins one of the most famous folk songs of the twentieth century. Here in America, many of us grew up hearing it on the radio or at music festivals, or maybe even in the classroom.

Though I was familiar with the popular renditions of “Freight Train” by Peter, Paul and Mary, Pete Seeger, and Joan Baez, I never really knew who wrote the song, nor had I heard of African American folk musician, singer and songwriter Elizabeth Cotten before reading this fabulous new picture book.

In Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten by singer-songwriter Laura Veirs and debut illustrator Tatyana Fazlalizadeh (Chronicle Books, 2018), we see how Libba ultimately accomplished “what she was born to do” despite the many ups and downs in her life.

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[review + recipe] Pass the Pandowdy, Please by Abigail Ewing Zelz and Eric Zelz

“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” ~ Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Imagine attending a sumptuous banquet where the invited guests are fascinating historical figures from around the world.

Seated to your left, the Aztec Emperor Moctezuma II feasts on “tortillas, corn, roast duck, rabbit, turkey, and fruit,” before swigging a dozen gold cups of frothy, spicy chocolate. Ahhh!

To your right, Christopher Columbus tentatively samples an avocado, a few guavas, some peanuts and pumpkin. He’s already devoured all the pineapples in sight. “Got any spices?” he asks.

Up at the head table, the ravishing Cleopatra nibbles on a few apricots and figs before fixing her make-up. Pharaohs must always look their best, after all. Her homemade lipstick made from crushed beetles and ants always does the trick. That, and a few pickles.

In Pass the Pandowdy, Please: Chewing on History with Famous Folks and Their Fabulous Foods (Tilbury House, 2016), author Abigail Ewing Zelz and illustrator Eric Zelz shine the spotlight on 16 cool movers and shakers through the ever tempting lens of food. As Abigail notes in her introduction, “food reflects culture, climate, time period, wealth, and beliefs.” No better way to get to know someone, I always say.

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[tasty review + giveaway] Dumpling Dreams: How Joyce Chen Brought the Dumpling from Beijing to Cambridge by Carrie Clickard and Katy Wu

Help yourself to a Joyce Chen 5-Minute Potsticker

 

Ni hao! Hello!

Do you ever dream about dumplings? I certainly do.

In fact, just hearing the word “dumpling” makes me happy. It’s the ultimate comfort food and my favorite term of endearment (feel free to call me ‘Dumpling’ any time). 🙂

Whenever you have a meat and vegetable filling wrapped with dough it’s a good thing. Plump, tender, savory, lip-smackingly delicious. Mmmmmm!

Since I’m a big fan of Chinese dumplings in particular, I was especially happy to see Dumpling Dreams: How Joyce Chen Brought the Dumpling from Beijing to Cambridge by Carrie Clickard and Katy Wu (Simon & Schuster, 2017).

Written in rhyming couplets, this delectable new picture book is an absolute delight, a charming introduction to the Chinese-American chef, author, restaurateur, entrepreneur, and TV personality who popularized Northern Chinese and Shanghainese cuisine in America.

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