I don’t normally review picture books, but when one of my fellows at The Winged Pen mentioned there was a chance to review STAND UP AND SING! Pete Seeger, Folk Music and the Path to Justice, I jumped at the chance. As a singer, social justice advocate, and fan of Pete Seeger, how could I not? The truth is, this book is important–not only because of the accomplishments of a man who committed himself fully to his truth, and to bringing people together to make real change in the world. It’s important because of the divisions, and diversions, of our world right now. As Peter Yarrow, folk-famous in his own right, says in his forward, “What Pete taught us is how to keep on keepin’ on, how to keep on singing, how to not become cynical, and how to turn challenge and adversity into greater determination and love for one another.” I can’t think of a more timely message, for adults and children of all stripes, as well as for musicians, artists and writers.
The book is a biography, and right from the start, it’s clear that the author, Susanna Reich, put love and effort into her research. She’s given us Pete’s early life, through the dark days of the depression, and shares how music gave him a way to connect to the experiences of others. He took these experiences and made music a vehicle to share his hopes and fears, and to bring people together.
Pete Seeger’s work to support Unions, as a key player in the Civil Rights Movement at Dr. King’s side, and as a pacifist, are explored without shying away from some of the dangers and challenges this brought into his life. Without being moralistic, STAND UP AND SING! tells the story of one man, and how he found a way to come to terms with things he disliked about the world–a way which gave others strength and courage to continue fighting for social justice. The illustrations by Adam Gustavson, are atmospheric and evocative throughout.
The book is not a light read. It offers deep, age-appropriate, insight into Pete Seeger’s life, but although there’s a lot of text, it is balanced by the number, and quality, of the illustrations. STAND UP AND SING! is a book that families and classrooms can, and in my view should, share together as a way to have important conversations about what each of us stands for, how we choose to stand, and being yourself, even in the face of great adversity.
Gabrielle Byrne lives in the rainy wilds of the Pacific Northwest with her husband, two daughters, and a wide variety of critters. She writes middle grade fantasy, and is a mentor for the Pitch Wars contest. You can find her on twitter at @GKByrne. She’s represented by Catherine Drayton at Inkwell Management.