Rose, Lisa. The Singer and the Scientist. Illustr. Isabel Muñoz. Kar-Ben, April 2021, 32 pp.
The Whole Megillah (TWM): I’m going to start with a set of bundled questions: How did you find this story about Marian’s performance at McCarter Theatre? How did you conduct research for this book? What was your greatest challenge in writing this book? Greatest satisfaction? How do you envision this book being used in the classroom? Is there a teacher’s guide? What do you want teachers, parents, and kids to take away from this story?
Lisa Rose (LR): Most of my teaching career has been in urban areas with African American students. I discovered many similarities between our two cultures. Because of this I was very interested in stories of Black and Jewish friendships and alliances. I read that Albert Einstein would teach at historically black colleges which led me to discover this story. Einstein’s sources were well documented. However, Marian Anderson’s own biography tells the story in a different way. In her biography, it is stated that it was prearranged that she would stay with Einstein. This was the most challenging thing about the story—I had “alternative facts” and had to evaluate all the information given for its validity. My conclusions: This event was embarrassing for Marian and her book was written pre-civil rights era. Marian was a reluctant activist. She would have downplayed the conflict.
This story was almost published by a different publisher, but they didn’t want the risk of an alternative version of the story. So, for myself mostly, I used all my skills from watching Law & Order to prove the Einstein version of the story was correct, then I presented my findings to Marian Anderson’s estate. Her estate certified that my version was the true version of the story. Years later, I submitted this story to Kar-Ben, the editor loved it and was satisfied with my research.
Racism and anti-semitism are challenging topics. A teacher’s guide is posted on my website. It will help parents and teachers start the conversation. But mostly this story is about friendship. I think it is important for kids to see they can have friends that look different and belong to different cultures. However, they can still have so much in common. For Einstein and Marian, they both loved music
Books with Jewish culture often have been left out of the diversity discussion. Yet, anti-semitism is rising in the U.S. Thus, I believe it is important that books about Jewish culture are included in diverse literature because through representation a greater understanding and empathy is formed. The Singer and The Scientist has what I would label as casual diversity. The book depicts a bit about Jewish life, but it is not only about a Jewish subject matter. This book is for all people.
TWM: Who inspires you?
LR: When you are a writer, you are a writer all the time. You get ideas from everywhere. You have to keep your “play mind” alert and alive. It has been challenging during this pandemic. However, I challenged myself to write funny, silly stories during this time to keep up my writing and personal well-being.
TWM: Do you have a writers’ group?
LR: I have long term critique partners. We trade stories whenever we need help. It works better with working, raising kids, etc. Sometimes, you can get more done than others. It always evens out in the end.
TWM: What advice do you have for those who seek to write about antisemitism and racism?
LR: Always tell the truth. If said in a developmentally appropriate way, they can handle it. Don’t give them BS—kids can detect that right away.