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.
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!
January 17, 2013
Obviously, I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction picture books lately and many of the biographies are about artists.
Jose Limon was born in Culiacan, Mexico. When he was only five years-old, civil war broke out in Mexico. His father moved the family to the border town of Nogales where they lived for two years until the family was allowed to emigrate from war torn Mexico into the United States were his father had found work.
In the United States, Jose’s fellow students made fun of his English and he vowed to learn the language well enough that no one would mock him again. In three years, he spoke fluent English and was a star student. He was also popular with his younger brothers and sisters for the drawing that he made for them. They especially loved the trains.
After high school, he moved to New York taking a job as a janitor while he visited museums and made his drawings, but he was disappointed that what he saw in his head never emerged onto the paper. When a friend took him to a dance concert, his love of music was reawakened. Soon he was studying dance and making a name for himself through this type of art.
Reich expertly brings the sounds and movements of Jose’s world alive. When he is at his grandmother’s he hears the trillia-tweet of her canary. His mother sings him to sleep, sora-sora-so. As a teen, he practices the music of two languages. Carmesi. Radiante. Liberacion. Crimson. Radiant. Liberation.
Colon’s water color and colored pencil illustrations bring Jose’s world to life from the bright colors of Mexico to the contrast between the traditional dances he saw there and the modern dances he created in New York.
This book is a great read aloud to share not only with dance lovers but for anyone who needs to hear the song of inspiration.
July 2, 2012
How do you make someone like Julia Child accessible to children? Simple. Just connect her to something that children find sympathetic. Author Susanna Reich does this by telling the reader about Minette, Julia Child’s Parisian cat.
When they moved to Paris, Julia Child and her husband wandered the cobblestone streets, visiting shops, spotting tiny courtyards and having many fine meals. Yet something was missing from their lives until they were adopted by an energetic cat with a lovely speckled coat.
Like many a Parisian, Minette had very fine taste in food and something out of a can simply would not do. How to solve this problem? Minette had her own solution —
“What a thrill to pounce on an unsuspecting bird! How delightful the crunch of a fresh-caught mouse. . .”
Not that that was all she was given. She was offered bits of her peoples’ lunch or freshly cooked fish heads, but “mouse and bird were really much preferred.
While Child’s buys her knife set, studies cooking at the Cordon Bleu and becomes a gourmet cook, Minette continues to stalk the mice that plague the apartment.
In this brief picture book, Reich captures not only Child’s love for food and entertaining but also the playful, finicky nature of Minette. While the book won’t tell a young reader everything there is to know about Child’s it is enough to whet the appetite and leave the reader hungry for the next course.
This book would also make an excellent gift for the adult in your life who is nuts for Julia Child. In addition to listing the sources for all dialogue found in the book, the author’s note also gives sources for the various facts and a pronunciation guide for all French terms.