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The Picture Book Buzz

Debbie's Song - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

A touching tribute to a special Jewish musician determined to create a sense of community by writing fun songs anyone can sing.

Debbie's Song: The Debbie Friedman Story

Author: Ellen Leventhal

Illustrator: Natalia Grebtsova

Publisher: Kar-Ben (2023)

Ages: 7-8



Biography, music, Jewish musician, and community.


Debbie Friedman always had music inside her, and she dreamed of using her love of singing to do what no one else had done before—create Jewish music that would welcome, include, and honor the whole Jewish community.

Opening Lines:

When Debbie Friedman was a little girl, music bubbled up inside her.

ALL the time.

Notes and melodies.

Loud and quiet.

Fast and slow.

All swirling around inside her, just waiting to burst out.

It was her superpower.

What I LOVED about this book:

This is such a great introduction to an active girl who adored music. I love the way Natalia Grebtsova literally gives Debbie wings and swirls and winds the music staff around Debbie as she dances and leaps through the room! A fun illustrative thread which leads the reader from the stunning title page through the book.

Text © Ellen Leventhal, 2023. Image © Natalia Grebtsova, 2023.

Music helped Debbie through tough times and provided a way for her to connect with her community - during summer camps and a six-month stint at a kibbutz in Israel. Returning to her home synagogue, Debbie noticed the dourness and disconnection of those attending and "her music itched to get out." So, this self-taught musician who couldn't read music and had never written lyrics before, decided to "write Jewish music that would welcome, include, and honor the voices of everyone!" The sheer joy Debbie felt in music and the enormity of this task are beautifully captured in this spread.

Text © Ellen Leventhal, 2023. Image © Natalia Grebtsova, 2023.

When her first attempt at translating a prayer to music emotionally resonated with a group of teenagers, she jumped wholeheartedly into creating her music. Weaving " English and Hebrew words together like a tapestry," Debbie created songs everyone could sing. Songs to create a universal community. I love this fun and colorful representation of the joy Debbie created with her songs.

Text © Ellen Leventhal, 2023. Image © Natalia Grebtsova, 2023.

The final spreads explore a wide range of reactions to her music and her audacity as an untrained musician. They are imaginative, full of twisting and twinning music staves. Creating a touching ode and celebration of this special musician whose desire (and tenacity) to create a community with music "broke barriers" and touched many lives. The ending note offers additional information on Debbie Friedman and the author's connection to her, as well as a glossary with pronunciations. This wonderful biography will make an important addition to all nonfiction collections, furthering Debbie's dream of creating a world-wide spirit of community.


- make your own box guitar or thumb piano and create your own music.

- how does music make you feel? Draw a picture that captures this feeling or create a dance to your favorite song.

- do you think you could write lyrics to a song? Try listening to some instrumental music and make up your own words to the tune.

- you can check out some of Debbie's songs, including Plant a Tree for Tu B'Shevat ("The birthday of trees"), along with activities, at Rosenfeld Community of Practice.

If you missed the interview with Ellen Leventhal on Monday, find it (here).

This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions and resources see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.


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Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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