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.