April 3, 2017
Stand Up and Sing! Pete Seeger, Folk Music, and the Path to Justice by Susanna Reich, illustrated by Adam Gustavson
“Pete Seeger was born in 1919, with music in his bones.”
From the first, this story about Pete Seeger and folk music pulled me in. Not that I grew up with Seeger. My folks were Peter, Paul and Mary fans and astonishingly loyal. One folk group to a household, thank you. But singing along with them, I learned the power of folk music and its a power that comes through in Reich’s story of Seeger’s life.
Seeger may have grown up going to boarding school but he also grew up spending summers on his grandparent’s farm where he lived with his father and brothers in the barn. During the Great Depression, his father may have had troubles paying the bills but they were better off than many. Still, his father made sure that Pete knew the stories of those people. Stories of lost jobs and inequality. As a young man he traveled with Woodie Guthrie and learned the power of music to share ideas while also defusing tension.
Reich pulls together Seeger’s work with Martin Luther King Jr., songs about the Vietnam War and building a sloop to bring attention to issues of water and ecology. By the time I finished the book, I was looking for someone to hear my favorite parts, especially this quote from Seeger:
“When one person taps out a beat . . . [or] three people discover a harmony . . . or a crowd joins in on a chorus as though to raise the ceiling a few feet higher, then they also know there is hope for the world.”
Yes, I was hooked by this story because of the folk music connection, but will it pull in young readers? Folk music is central to the story but there is much more to the book just as there was much more to Seeger’s life. There is social justice and environmentalism, there is a can-do attitude, a spirit of working together and most of all . . . hope.
Gustavson’s multi-media illustrations have the charm and depth of a Norman Rockwell illustration, paired with the rich color needed to contribute to the down-to-earth complexity of the story. I must for the library shelf whether classroom or family so that another group of young readers and song lovers can learn about the joy and hope Seeger and those like him have brought to the world.
April 28, 2016
by Darrin Lunde
illustrated by Adam Gustavson
It probably come as no secret to you — many people hate rats. They try to trap them, poison them and generally do them harm.
For those of you who are willing to learn a thing or twelve about rats, this is an excellent book. Lunde talks about the different types of rats found all over the world including the long-tailed marmoset rat which, like the well-known and much adored panda, eats only bamboo. He also wrote about the bushy-tailed cloud rat which actually has a fluffy tail. If you had just shown me a photo, I would have guessed porcupine. These “little” guys are cute! One of the wild rats he covered is my favorite, the kangaroo rat. Yes, I have a favorite rat.
Lunde also wrote about the many ways that rats are good. He discussed lab rats (poor rats!) and the fact that rats are a vital part of the food chain.
The backmatter included more types of rats. I do wish that the African giant pouched rat had made it into the main text. They’re pretty fantastic too. Also in the back matter was the crested rat which is toxic/poisonous because of a particular kind of plant sap that permeates their fur. Crazy!
I’m a bit of a casual rat nut. I say casual because I’ve never kept rats. My son’s godmother has rats and I know a thing or two thanks to her. I know that even rats who find food in garbage are not dirty. They spend a great deal of time grooming. I wish Lunde had pointed that particular fact out. But this is a picture book and because of the limited number of pages and limited number of words, there is only so much he can say. I get that.
Adam Gustavson’s paintings sometimes reminded me of Mark Teague’s work. I think it has something to do with the people’s faces. Teague illustrated the “How do Dinosaurs” books. Gustavson’s pictures aren’t encyclopedic but they are definitely realistic and his rats truly look like rats. It doesn’t take much imagination to picture one sniffing or scampering off the page.
I would definitely add this one to my bookshelf. It is a great jumping off point for discussions on diversity, urban wildlife and our misconceptions about same.
February 16, 2016
Fab Four Friends:
The Boys who Became the Beatles
by Susanna Reich
illustrated by Adam Gustavson
Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt
John Lennon lived with his aunt and uncle but when his band, the Quarrymen, practiced, that met at his mother’s apartment. Aunt Mimi knew he loved to play the guitar but worried he wouldn’t be able to make a living with it.
Paul McCartney grew up in a musical home and music definitely helped fill the void when his mother died. Paul and John practiced their guitars at Paul’s house, writing songs and scribbling down the words.
George Harrison’s family didn’t have a lot of money or enough to eat but they had plenty of laughter. His Dad wanted him to be an electrician but George loved rock-n-roll. He used his wages as a delivery boy to buy records and worked out the chords for the songs. He taught the chords to John and Paul.
When their band, they had changed the name to the Beatles, got a gig in Germany, they learned to whip up a crowd. All they needed now was a drummer which they found in sharp dressing, steady drumming Ringo Starr.
This can’t have been the easiest book to write — having to merge the stories of four musicians into one — but Reich handles it well, detailing their lives pre-Beatles as well as how the band became The Beatles of legend. Gustavson’s oil paintings bring the story to life, capturing each man and helping bring him into focus for the readers.
What I think this book does best is show the work and commitment that went into becoming a band of legend. This wasn’t a ho-hum we don’t have anything else to do project. It didn’t happen over night. It is something the boys made happen in spite of the odds and working to make the changes necessary to go from good to great.
Share this book with the young music lovers in your life but be ready to pick up a copy for an older Beatles fan as well!