Friday, September 28, 2012

Picture book review: Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue by Anna Barwelll Celenza, illustrated by JoAnn E. Kitchel

One day in early 1924 George Gershwin's brother Ira was reading the New York Daily when he brought to George's attention that the newspaper said he would be performing a new concerto in a few weeks. The problem was, this was news to George! He had no idea that the public expected him to perform a brand new piano concerto, especially considering he hadn't even started writing one, let alone one ready to perform in a few weeks. But thanks to the encouragement of his brother and friends, he took on the challenge of creating a piece that would soon become the epitome of American music and also a love song to New York. And  let's not forget he finished the task in only a few weeks.

I am somewhat of a classical music snob. I played classical piano for 13 years and have always adored composers like Chopin (my favorite), Beethoven, Rachmainoff, Brahms, etc. But when I was a pre-teen and adolescent, my musical sophistication just wasn't developed enough to truly appreciate the genius of George Gershwin: the constant dissonance, the difficulty in picking out a lilting melody, the jazzy, syncopated notes. I just didn't get it. It wasn't until I was in my late twenties and I had heard this piece countless times that I finally began to appreciate its genius, and then started to consider it all-out brilliant. It really is the epitome of what America is all about: a melting pot of many different styles of music: jazz, classical, ragtime, blues...

Because I grew up loving classical music, that is definitely what drew me to this book. I LOVED learning how George Gershwin gave birth to this iconic piece of music. I think what is most evocative about this book is just knowing that had it not been for a presumptuous orchestra leader, Paul Whiteman, who made the announcement to the New York Daily of Gershwin's imminent performance, this piece may never have come to fruition, and how sad that would have been for American music.

This book comes with an accompanying CD that includes one track. I'll let you make an educated guess as to what track that is. 

Gerhwin's Rhapsody in Blue by Anna Barwelll Celenza, illustrated by JoAnn E. Kitchel
Published: July 1, 2006
Publisher: Charlesbridge
Pages: 32
Genre: Nonfiction picture book
Audience: Middle Grade
Disclosure: Checked out from library


  1. Wow, I need to get this for sure! (My blog name came to me while listening to Rhapsody in Blue, probably needless to say!) By the way I recently finished the new book by Katherine Webb on George and Kay Swift, and it was a disappointment!

  2. What a marvelous book! I love when picture books can entertain and teach.