Irving Berlin, the Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing

illus. by James Rey Sanchez. 32p. chron. Creston. Jun. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781939547446.
Gr 2–5—In this picture book biography for older readers, Churnin describes the early life of Irving Berlin, a Russian immigrant who became famous for writing such songs as "White Christmas" and "God Bless America," the latter being a focal point of the story. From his arrival in New York City, through times of homelessness and singing on street corners, Berlin's life is retold with rich and descriptive language. Chernin includes interesting details such as Berlin drawing musical inspiration from the Shema Yisrael. Oddly, the subject is never explicitly described as Jewish. Words such as shtetl and cantor are used, but not defined, and no context is given for the family's departure of their homeland. Churnin includes a thorough author's note and time line, describing the remainder of Berlin's life, though includes no bibliography. Sanchez's lively, stylized illustrations fill each spread. The pages could easily be stills from a digitally animated movie. Berlin and his family have exaggerated features and appear caricaturelike, but this is done tastefully. Light and dark are well balanced, with pops of intense color—particularly Berlin's long red scarf that weaves through each page. Sanchez captures the immigrant experience visually, from the joyful faces seeing the New York cityscape for the first time to a young Berlin splashing in a washtub in a crowded tenement.
VERDICT A thorough and engaging look at Berlin's early life featuring unique illustrations and a few minor flaws. Purchase for medium to large children's biography collections.

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