Born nearly 100 years ago, Pete Seeger loved to “toot, shake, and bang” on every musical instrument his mother owned. Pete absolutely loved music!
During his boyhood, life was wonderful. Although his parents divorced, Pete had a happy home, a boarding-school education, hobbies, and plenty to read, and he had his music. He enjoyed singing with his father and brothers, and he even bought his own banjo with his savings.
He was content, but he clearly saw that other people weren’t so well-off. During the Depression, many workers lost their jobs and folks went hungry. Pete’s family got by — but just barely; unluckier folks coped with hardship by pulling together, and by singing songs about their lives.
That impressed Pete a lot, and it made him think. He focused his life on the issues of the day, and he lost his college scholarship, so he took up his banjo and played on the street for coins. Soon, he was playing for crowds of workers and their wives, then for students, then for paying audiences.
After serving in World War II, Pete “threw himself into the ‘singing union movement.’ ” He loved making a difference, but it wasn’t easy: because of his music, some people questioned his loyalty to America. Still, he never stopped singing about Civil Rights, worker’s rights, intolerance, hatred, and unfairness. He never stopped trying to make the world a better place.
There’s a lot to like in “Stand Up and Sing!” by Susanna Reich, illustrated by Adam Gustavson.
Kids who’ve marched in recent rallies or who are mature enough to see injustices will appreciate the story of Seeger, who dedicated his life to creating change. Children who love to sing will see how it can be more than fun — it can be beneficial, too. And kids will be delighted by Gustavson’s illustrations.
Those are the best parts of what you’ll get inside this book; indeed, Reich tells a good tale. At issue is that it appears to be a picture book for small children, which it absolutely isn’t: Reich’s story is pretty advanced for kids under 12, but children over that age may find its format too babyish. It’s not a chapter book, and half of it consists of pictures. The over-12 set may resist.
Still, if you can entice an older child to try it, “Stand Up and Sing!” is a great introduction to folk music and the history of protest.
“Stand Up and Sing! Pete Seeger, Folk Music, and the Path to Justice,” by Susanna Reich, illustrated by Adam Gustavson, foreword by Peter Yarrow [48 pages, 2017, $17.99].
Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was 3 years old, and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill with two dogs and 12,000 books.