Review: Itzhak: A Boy Who Loved the Violin

Itzhak: A Boy Who Loved the Violin, The Story of Young Itzhak Perlman by Tracy Newman, illustrated by Abigail Halpin

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Kathy Bloomfield

Itzhak Perlman is considered by many to be the greatest violinist in the world today. Itzhak: a Boy Who Loved the Violin, is the story of how he grew up, starting with his birth in Tel Aviv, Israel and moving through his life until his appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show at the age of thirteen.

The details of his life are well laid out. He was surrounded by music – classical, cantorial, klezmer filled his home from an early age. He is synesthetic, meaning he sees music as a rainbow of colors. By the time he was three years old, he knew he wanted to play the violin. Unfortunately, his parents could not afford that, and the toy one they were able to provide did not appease Itzhak’s desire. Even more unfortunately, at the age of four, Itzhak contracted a life-threatening case of polio. He survived and worked hard to recover the use of his body, but his legs stayed paralyzed. With braces and crutches, he made his way in the world.

At last, he received a violin, began studying with a very strict teacher and became an exceptional violin player. So much so that when he auditioned for Ed Sullivan, he was invited to come to the United States and play on the show. That performance was the beginning of his stardom which has not ceased to this day.

An “Author’s Note” in the back of the book continues Itzhak’s story including his being a champion for those with special needs, especially children. An Illustrator’s Note, Timeline, Notes identifying the source of quotes, a Bibliography and List of videos complete the back matter.

The watercolor, colored pencil illustrations are simply stunning. The author writes, “Itzhak’s secret? He talked to the music, imagining the personality of the piece…” The illustrations cause you to see that. Joy, passion, and concentration are all beautifully illuminated on each wonderful page.

This beautiful book has everything it needs to win the Sydney Taylor Book Award for Young Readers. The writing is extraordinary, the artwork is breathtaking. The Jewish details – Hebrew signs on the stores in Tel Aviv, Hebrew names on the beds of the children stricken with polio, the names of famous Jewish violinists who inspired Itzhak, even the musical notes illustrated throughout the book are taken from the “Bach Concerto for Two Violins” which was played by Itzhak Perlman and Isaac Stern - abound. Based on the back matter, it is clear the author and illustrator both meticulously researched this story.

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Reviewer Kathy Bloomfield is the President of the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL). She is currently “retired,” but uses her time for a variety of activities like book editing, book reviewing and managing her personal library of over 2000 books. Kathy has worked for Pacific Telephone, Pacific Bell, the Los Angeles Zoo, BabagaNewz magazine,, Mayyim Hayyim Community Mikveh, the Union for Reform Judaism and the Wellesley Public School System. Her volunteer roles have included AJL Board member, Temple President, Mikveh Guide, URJ Outreach Fellow, and member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee. Kathy is working hard during the COVID-19 pandemic to upgrade her long dormant website,, where she writes about children’s literature with Jewish values content. She lives in Seal Beach, CA.