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September 1, 2010

Security Blanket: Music Over Manhattan

Some of my friends call them “loveys”—the especially beloved items that can calm young children when nothing else can. Traditionally, they’re stuffed animals of one kind or another—those endearingly well-worn ones whose dilapidation is almost unbearably cute to all parents. (We know what it signifies, after all.)

Dash, our five-year-old, had (and even still has) traditional loveys, of course, but back in the day, the go-to was a picture book. It was one of his first books, actually, a gift from my sister-in-law: Music Over Manhattan, by Mark Karlins, with illustrations by Jack E. Davis. This was the book he insisted we read him at bedtime when he’d had a particularly rough day, or perhaps a particularly great one he wanted to cap off well, even before he could use real words to do so.

It’s about a Brooklyn kid, Bernie, who feels he can’t do anything right, and certainly not as well as his irritatingly perfect cousin Herbert. But he’s taken under the wing of his Uncle Louis, a professional musician who plays Bernie’s favorite song, “Moonlight Over Manhattan,” so beautifully that the music lifts people into the air. Louis sees talent in Bernie, and over time teaches him to play the trumpet, and before a family wedding he’s playing for, he asks Bernie to fill in for a sick trumpeter—including the solo on the magical song. Bernie is nervous, but in the end, he doesn’t disappoint.

It’s a charming little book, and Davis’s exaggerated style of illustration fits the modern New York caricatures in the tale wonderfully. But the story itself can’t have been much of a touchstone for an 18-month-old who didn’t really have perfect cousins or peers to be frustrated by. It seems to be that magical idea of music making people actually lift off the ground and fly that captured Dash’s imagination early.

That concept has lasted, too—while he’s since moved on to other reading favorites, he still pulls out Music Over Manhattan from time to time for a look. The other day, I noticed him reading it to his little brother, who’s just a little older now than he was when he first fell in love with it. Two-time lovey, perhaps?
[Photos by Whitney Webster]

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