The renowned and much-beloved violinist Itzhak Perlman was born in Israel in 1945. Newman tells the story of Itzhak’s childhood as a music prodigy and his bout with polio which left him paralyzed. The story documents Itzhak’s hard work to manage both the effects of his disease and his extraordinary talent. (He was performing with orchestras by the time he was six years old.) The story ends when Itzhak was 13 and traveled to New York to perform on the Ed Sullivan Show, an appearance which catapulted the boy to fame.
What the author doesn’t explain but only alludes to, especially by way of the illustrations, is the fact of his synesthesia. The author writes that “when Itzhak listened to music, a vivid rainbow of colors appeared in his mind – hues from dark green to red to yellow.” This wasn’t just metaphor.
As defined in Scientific American:
“Synesthesia is an anomalous blending of the senses in which the stimulation of one modality simultaneously produces sensation in a different modality. Synesthetes hear colors, feel sounds and taste shapes. What makes synesthesia different from drug-induced hallucinations is that synesthetic sensations are highly consistent: for particular synesthetes, the note F is always a reddish shade of rust, a 3 is always pink or truck is always blue.
The estimated occurrence of synesthesia ranges from rarer than one in 20,000 to as prevalent as one in 200.”
In a Psychology Today article about Perman’s synesthesia, Itzhak is quoted as explaining:
“I know that I can describe certain sounds with color. It’s not music – it’s notes, it’s single sounds. So if I hear a particular sound on a particular string on the violin I could associate that sound with color….It’s not like I play a piece and I see sparkling blue things.”
Perlman also revealed that besides colors, he sees shapes in music: “Each note has a shape. I would say that if you play a D on the G string, for me that’s round. But if you play an A on an E string for me, that’s much more flat, the shape of it. I hope not the intonation, but the shape of it.”
These ways of hearing and identifying sounds helped him hone his music into something mesmerizing.
This author’s primary focus however is on Itzhak’s perseverance, and how he overcame obstacles, including physical disability, to achieve success. Perlman as an adult, as explained in the Author’s Note, has become an advocate for children with special needs.
Back matter also includes an Illustrator’s Note, Timeline (which brings readers up-to-date on Perlman’s life), and sources for further study, including a list of videos.
Illustrations by Abigail Halpin reflect her own understanding of music, as well as her admiration for Itzhak Perlman not only as a performer but as a person.
Evaluation: The author focuses on the many struggles Itzhak had to face in order to realize his dreams. She also, importantly, notes that Itzhak realized he could never do some things because of his disability, but he could find other ways to enjoy life and feel fulfilled.
Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2020