Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Stand Up and Sing!

Seven or eight years ago, when I lived in Beacon, NY, I wandered down to the riverfront where a local festival was taking place. As I strolled along the wharf, I heard a familiar voice singing to the strums of a banjo. It was none other than Pete Seeger. He wasn't up on a stage--he was mingling with the people and encouraging them to sing along with him. Seeing him perform was a highlight of my short time in the Hudson Valley.

Susanna Reich has undertaken to write a picture book biography about Pete Seeger's long and eventful life, a formidable task. In his 94 years, Seeger experienced the Great Depression, fought in WW II, was blacklisted during the McCarthy years, agitated for civil rights, protested the Vietnam War, and worked as an environmentalist to clean the Hudson River. In Stand Up and Sing!, Reich guides the reader through Seeger's many accomplishments, the common thread tying them together being his love of music. The book moves along at a brisk pace, but Reich does slow down to highlight some of the especially dramatic moments of Seeger's life. For instance, Seeger's experience at the 1949 Peekskill Riots, when mobs attacked him and his family, is given its own spread. Reich ends the episode with a telling detail--Seeger kept two of the rocks that were thrown at him and cemented them into his fireplace, a reminder of "how important it was to stand up for his beliefs--and to never stop singing."

Adam Gustavson's moody illustrations capture Seeger's unruffled personality and evoke the grittiness of the times. An inspiring foreword by Peter Yarrow will perhaps resonate more with adult readers than children. An Author's Note and Selected Sources complete the book.

Stand Up and Sing!
Pete Seeger, Folk Music,
and the Path to Justice
by Susanna Reich
illustrated by Adam Gustavson
Bloomsbury  48 pages
Published: March 21, 2017