Book Review: Nathan’s Song
By: Leda Schubert
Illustrated by: Maya Ish-Shalom
Reviewed by: Uma Krishnaswami
Nathan, growing up in a shtetl in Russia, loves to sing. Upon hearing opera for the first time, he is transfixed and longs to learn this kind of music. His community and his family—even his little brother Samuel—come up with the funds to pay for his passage to Italy. What happens next is a marvel of picture book writing: Nathan ends up on the wrong boat and sings for his supper … all the way to New York! Schubert imbues this story from her own family history with a keen writerly instinct. In New York, the buildings “hide the sky.” Italy comes to Nathan in the person of trainer Nicolo. Nathan finds love. The family arrives as well, Samuel in the lead, and an old cap makes its way through time into the reader’s awareness of this important moment of reunion. Nathan sings continuously until, in the end, when music, Russia, and New York come together to round out this lovingly rendered tale. A note in the book’s back matter includes facts about the life of the author’s grandfather, drawing a brief comparison between the experiences of Jews fleeing Russia before World War I and the journeys of immigrants today. She relates the real-life Nathan’s musical successes to her own memories of him. Schubert’s pacing is dexterous, as is her use of Nathan’s singing to power this story, from his initial yearning to the myriad places where he employs his voice to good purpose, and ultimately to the love that gives it all resonance in the end.
The publication date for this title is February 2021.
Reviewer Uma Krishnaswami is a children’s writer, picture books through middle grade. She is also faculty in the MFA program in Writing for Children & Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts.