Saturday, September 12, 2020

Q&A with Tracy Newman

Tracy Newman is the author of the new children's picture book Itzhak: A Boy Who Loved the Violin. Her other books include Havdalah Is Coming! and Simchat Torah is Coming!.


Q: Why did you decide to write a children's picture book about violinist Itzhak Perlman?


A: My mentor at PJ Library, a nonprofit that promotes Jewish cultural literacy among children and their families, suggested writing about Itzhak Perlman. He was a cultural icon I was familiar with, more from his commercials and appearances on Sesame Street than from his masterful performances.


Q: What kind of research did you do to write the book, and did you learn anything surprising?


A: I read books, newspaper and magazine articles and watched lots of videos of Mr. Perlman‘s interviews. Best of all, I listened to Itzhak’s performances. These experiences enabled me to learn about Mr. Perlman’s childhood and to absorb myself in his music. 

Q: What do you think Abigail Halpin's illustrations add to the book?


A: Abigail’s illustrations were magnificent. The colors, the emotions, and the research she did to bring the book’s scenes to life were such a wonderful addition to this story. I am so grateful for her collaboration, creating such beautiful illustrations for Itzhak.

Q: What do you hope kids take away from Itzhak Perlman's story?


A: I hope that readers realize that Itzhak, even though he was a gifted musician, didn’t like to practice playing the violin, yet he persevered and managed to find ways to spend the necessary hours refining his skills. So many people can relate to Itzhak’s desire to avoid the monotony of daily practice, however, being able to overcome that resistance and pursue your art is invaluable.

Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am working on a biography of Steven Spielberg, an amazing and also surprising man. 


Q: Anything else we should know?

A: At one of Itzhak’s first major successes, the Leventritt competition, he lost a borrowed violin. The violin was stolen in the brief moments when he learned that he had won this prestigious competition. How disappointing for this loss to overshadow the victory that Itzhak had earned by becoming the youngest performer to ever win this prize.


Fortunately, the violin was quickly found; however, Itzhak’s tremendous success was unable to be fully appreciated at the time people were distracted by the disappearance of a valuable musical instrument. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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