Happy Birthday, Irving Berlin!

My newest book, Write On, Irving Berlin! is out on May 15, just in time for Berlin’s 130th birthday (on May 11) and for the 100th birthday of his iconic song, “God Bless America.” The patriotic blockbuster was written in 1918, in the height of World War I. Then Berlin decided there were already too many similar songs out there, and he put it away in a drawer. In 1938, in the run-up to World War II, he took it out again, brushed up some of the lyrics, and published it, with Kate Smith famously recording her rousing version. So Happy Birthday to the song, the man, and the book!

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Berlin was a fascinating person, the composer and lyricist of well over a thousand hits—who could barely play the piano himself. A Jewish immigrant, whose family fled the pogroms of Russia arrived in America penniless, he would go on to write two of the greatest musical hits of American music ever: “God Bless America” and “White Christmas.” There were some who took issue at a Jewish immigrant having written them, but happily, those voices were drowned out. Berlin was so grateful to his adopted country that he donated all the proceeds from “God Bless America” to the Boy and Girl Scouts of America, a move that benefitted them to the tune (pun intended!) of millions of dollars.

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Berlin was a prolific writer, working constantly, quickly, anywhere, and at all hours of the night. Legend has it that he wrote “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better” for Annie, Get Your Gun, in 15 minutes in the backseat of a cab! What’s your favorite Berlin tune?

May 2018

Ingenuity

This really happened. The Smithsonian Institute recently awarded Sesame Workshop a 2017 Smithsonian Ingenuity Award. It was given in the category of Social Impact for our work in bringing to life Julia, the new Sesame Street friend with autism. Together with Sherrie Westin, the executive vice president of global impact and philanthropy, and Chrissy Ferraro, the writer of the script that introduced Julia to the television audience, I traveled to Washington D.C. for the festivities.

What an incredible experience! The night was shared by honorees such as John Legend. Jony Ive, and Ava Duvernay, as well as people whose names you might not know—but whose achievements are spectacular, from discovering new planets in the Milky Way galaxy to using stem cells to reverse the effects of a stroke. [And I haven’t even mentioned the illustrious award presenters, such as Quincy Jones, for starters.] The whole event, for me especially, came at the perfect time, being a much-needed injection of optimism. That these impressive and yet modest people exist and are going to such lengths to make the world better for everyone gave me a great deal of hope—for at least a few days!

You can read more about my part here: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/ingenuity/ceremonies/2017-winners/

 

November 2017

       

On Kindness

I work part-time at Sesame Workshop, whose mission it is to help children grow “smarter, stronger, kinder.” These days, nothing seems more important than sending some kindness karma into the world.

If you ask most parents what trait they’d most like to nurture in their children, the majority would probably put “kindness” at or near the top of the list. And they’d truly mean it.

But if you asked most kids what they thought made their parents proudest, well, kindness might not even make the list. Funny thing, this gap. Or maybe not. We take kindness for granted. We openly admire people in society for their financial success, for their superior intellect or athletic prowess, for their fame or power. But when did your child last hear you say, “Look at that person over there. I’d like you to grow up just like him/her. She/he is really nice.”

In social media, it’s usually the snarkiest comments that get the most attention. On network news, the most horrific events get the most oxygen. Think about the positive reinforcement you give your child for mastering a new skill, tying a shoe for the first time, getting a good grade, or hitting a home run. Now I’m not suggesting praising kids over and over again for being kind; kindness should be the expected standard. But I do think that, at least occasionally, being kind should get them an equal amount of positive attention as, say, learning to skip.

As parents, we are our kids’ best role models. I fall down, just like anyone else. But I keep trying. Let’s all put some effort into modeling kindness, civility, and mutual respect—and noticing aloud when it’s practiced by others. Kindness is surprisingly addictive, and best of all, it feels as wonderful to the giver as to the recipient.

May 2017

About Julia, Part II

About a year ago, I wrote about Julia, a new Muppet on Sesame Street, who is on the autism spectrum. The autism initiative included a web site (check it out; it’s got incredible videos and other assets: sesamestreet.org/autism) and a storybook, We’re Amazing, 1, 2, 3.   I wrote the storybook, basing many of Julia’s characteristics on my amazing son, who has autism. Especially her love for music and singing—music fills our house every day. And I gave the new muppet a form of my daughter’s middle name, as an homage to the amazing siblings in families like ours.

The response to Julia was huge. As a result, Julia is making her debut as an actual 3-D Muppet (as was announced on 60 Minutes, 3/19/17)—and she is absolutely adorable.  The script was written by Chrissy Ferraro. It’s true to life (in a Muppet-y kind of way!) and fun. The performer, Stacey Gordon (herself the mother of a son with autism), is perfect. As an author, I have to say that there’s nothing more thrilling than watching a character you wrote come to life. Of all the things I’ve done in my many years at Sesame Workshop, this is the one I’m proudest of. It was a labor of love for me, and for so many others in the remarkable team that has brought Julia to life.  I hope Julia makes many friends and helps grow an atmosphere of respect and acceptance for everyone.

March 2017  

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Leslie Anne of Green Gables

I was completely besotted with Anne of Green Gables, growing up. There was one summer vacation, spent in Vermont, where I took out one book from the village library after another, tearing through every book in the series. Unlike the fictional Anne, I had always craved red hair (or, to give it Anne’s more romantic description, auburn). But nature had other ideas. So instead, as homage, I decided, like Anne, that “Anne with an e” is much more distinguished. I officially changed my middle name from Ann to Anne.

This summer I had the pleasure of finally visiting the Green Gables site on Prince Edward Island, in Canada. The whole island was absolutely lovely, but visiting Lucy Maude Montgomery’s birthplace, and the Green Gables house and other sites that inspired her stories was amazing. Even though I knew the stories were fictional, walking in “The Haunted Woods” or down “Lovers’ Lane” was a complete thrill.

Here’s me with one of the Anne’s the historic site hired this summer.

September 2016

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