In biography, what is left out is as significant as what is included. Let us first discuss what Jim Whiting has chosen to put in. He has done extensive research; appropriate quotes are interspersed throughout the story. He describes the music scene in the early 20th century and puts Gershwin’s life within this historical context. For example, it’s fascinating to learn that Tin Pan Alley got its name when a man named Monroe Rosenfeld compared the sound coming from many pianos being played with the windows open to the clanging and banging of dozens of pots and pans. Less interesting are full-page spreads called “FYInfo”. In these sections, Whiting discusses details about: Sports and Politics, the Spanish-American War, Irving Berlin, J. Edgar Hoover, Roosevelt’s New Deal, and J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan. Except for the section about Irving Berlin, this reviewer found these pages distracting. They seemed like filler.
The format of this hardcover book suits the book’s purpose. Photos are included to break up the monotony of solid pages of text. Chapters are relatively short, containing manageable chunks of information. This book contains the basic features of biography: Contents, Chronology, Timeline, Chapter Notes, Further Reading, Works Consulted, Selected Works, and Index. What is not included, except for one brief paragraph, is mention of Gershwin’s Jewish background. How that heritage influenced the composer’s life choices is almost completely ignored. For more about Gershwin’s Jewish identity and the effect it had on his music, see other Gershwin biographies for young people, such as Paul Kresh’s excellent An American Rhapsody: The Story of George Gershwin (Dutton,1988) or Catherine Reef’s George Gershwin: American Composer (Morgan Reynolds, 2000). For ages 9 – 12.