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West Bloomfield author tackles racism in children's book 'The Singer and the Scientist'

Posted by Kurt Anthony Krug - Special to The Detroit News on 4/7/2021

Lisa Rose’s 10th children’s book is so unlike her others.

“I would think this one really shows my more serious side, my more solemn side. All of my other books are more silly and more playful. This book is not playful. This book is not silly. This book is very serious. This is a really important book at this time,” said Rose of West Bloomfield Township, who graduated from West Bloomfield High School, the University of Michigan and Oakland University.

Her latest book, “The Singer and the Scientist,” illustrated by Isabel Muñoz, was recently released and chronicles the friendship of renowned singer Marian Anderson and Albert Einstein, one of the greatest scientists of all time who developed the theory of relativity.

Author Lisa Rose displays her latest children's book, The Scientist and the Singer.

 In 1937, Anderson – an African-American who was one of the most famous singers in the United States at the time – sang at the McCarter Theatre Center at Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey, before an all-White audience. Her performance was well-received.

However, Anderson was denied lodging at the nearby Nassau Inn because of her skin color. She had no idea where she would spend the night. The members of the audience who had given her a standing ovation only moments before refused to help.

All save one.

Einstein, who taught at Princeton, was in attendance. Learning of her plight, he invited Anderson to stay in his guest room at his house, which was in a predominantly Black neighborhood. Einstein, who was Jewish, left his native Germany as the Nazis rose to power. Both understood what it was like to be treated as an outsider in their own country. That night, they bonded over the discrimination they both faced and their love of music. Einstein told Anderson he once played the violin. Upon her request, he started playing for her and she started singing, which was the beginning of their long friendship.

The Singer and the Scientist, by Lisa Rose, illustrated by Isabel Munoz

“Knowing (Einstein’s) history and everything I researched about him, this story rang true to who he was as a person,” said Rose. “It was no surprise he was the only one to offer her a room for the night.”

 Years later, when Anderson performed at the McCarter again, arrangements were made for her to stay at the Nassau Inn. However, she stayed with Einstein instead, having an open invitation.

 “Einstein wasn’t accepted by the Princeton academic community because he was Jewish,” said Rose. “He felt at home in a Black neighborhood because he felt like an outsider... Mostly, Jews and African-Americans were considered quote-unquote ‘outsiders.’ He could relate to them. That’s most likely why he stayed in that community and offered to have (Anderson) stay at his house. Nobody else rushed to her defense. It was only Einstein.”

When Rose sold the idea for the children’s book two years ago, no one would have predicted that in 2020 America would have to deal with not only the coronavirus pandemic but also the many racial incidents that rocked the nation. Most notably, on May 25, 2020, when George Floyd, a Black man, was declared dead after a White Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee onto Floyd’s neck for about nine minutes while he was handcuffed and pleading that he couldn’t breathe.

In addition to Floyd and other racial incidents against African-Americans, there also has been a surge in racial violence against Asian Americans.

“Even leading up to (2020), we were examining the country’s racist past and current racism and biases… It’s important at this time to show what communities have in common and to come together to fight for equality for all, which happened especially during the Civil Rights era when the Black and Jewish communities were united," said Rose, who is Jewish. "In recent years, there has been more conflict. I think our communities need to come together to fight for equality once again. We were very powerful together.” 

While Anderson was an important figure in African-American artists’ struggle to overcome racial prejudice in the U.S. during the mid-20th century, she was a reluctant activist. All Anderson wanted to do was sing, Rose said.

In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to let Anderson perform in Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. Thanks to the intervention of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Anderson performed on April 9, 1939 – Easter Sunday – at the Lincoln Memorial, singing before a mixed crowd of more than 75,000 and a radio audience well in the millions.

In 1955, Anderson became the first African-American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City and sang at the March on Washington on Aug. 28, 1963. She went on to win numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

“She felt there was a point when she sang in D.C. that it was no longer about her and her wishes anymore. It was about that higher goal, that she was the person who was called to do this at that time. She just wanted to sing. She just wanted to be a singer – not a Black singer, not an activist,” said Rose.

Despite the themes of racism and prejudice in “The Singer and the Scientist,” that’s not the book’s main theme. Rose stated it’s about friendship – the friendship of Anderson and Einstein – something kids can relate to and understand.

“These two have a common experience – racism and anti-Semitism – but really what they share is their love for music. You can be friends with someone who doesn’t look like you. I think it’s important that kids see that and see that representation. It’s a book for everyone,” said Rose. “I want to stress that Jewish books have been left out of the diverse books discussion and not considered part of that movement. I think it’s so important with anti-Semitism on the rise that all kids read this book. No, it’s not gonna convert you. No, you’re not gonna start observing Shabbat – they’re about our culture and understanding our culture. It shows what we have in common with other people who are also suffering.”

Writing “The Singer and the Scientist” made Rose understand the importance of being a Jewish author.

“It’s who I am. It’s my background. It’s my culture… I think it’s important our voices are heard and not silenced. I think it’s important that we celebrate our diversity,” she said. “I understand – like Marian – it’s not about her anymore. There is really, really something wrong in our country now. I felt I needed to use my voice as a Jewish author to provide not only books for Jewish children, but for all children. All of my books with a Jewish theme are what I call ‘casual diversity,’ meaning you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy them.”

Rose dedicated “The Singer and the Scientist” to her mother, Sharon Granitz.

“I didn’t have the right book yet for her to dedicate to her – none of them were right,” she explained. “This was the perfect book for her. I kept dedication as a surprise and presented the book to her… She was really, really happy with the book and thanked me and was glad I waited for the right book to dedicate to her.”

--Article posted on Detroit News

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 West Bloomfield author tackles racism in children's book 'The Singer and the Scientist'
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