There are two new books out this year on Pete Seeger. One is for older children (Stand Up and Sing: Pete Seeger, Folk Music, and The Path to Justice by Susanna Reich), and this one is for younger kids. Interestingly, both authors saw Seeger perform when they were young, and were very influenced by him.
Leda Schubert writes at the beginning of this book:
There was nobody like Pete Seeger.
Wherever he went, he got people singing.”
She tells a bit about his favorite songs, and about his social activism:
Pete participated his whole life.
He led marches to end wars;
He stood on peace lines in cold and snow, heat and rain.”
She explains how he traveled the country with his good friend and fellow singer and activist Woody Guthrie. He was called before The House Un-American Activities Committee of the United States Congress and questioned about his protests. She reports:
“Pete said, ‘I love my country very deeply,’
Offered to sing a song,
And stood by his First Amendment right,
The right of free speech.”
Seeger was then part of the singing group “The Weavers,” and the government accusations cost them concert bookings and television appearances. But Seeger just kept on traveling, and kept on singing. And he didn’t just say things, Schubert writes, he did things. As the Chicago Tribune reported in his obituary:
“Seeger became a beacon to many artists on the emerging folk scene of the ‘60s, co-founding the Newport Folk Festival in 1959. ‘We all owe our careers to him,” Joan Baez said. The Kingston Trio’s version of Seeger’s anti-war song ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone?’ and Peter, Paul and Mary’s take on ‘If I Had a Hammer’ were early ‘60s pop hits.”
Schubert writes in her Author’s Note at the end of the book:
“Over the course of his ninety-four years, Pete Seeger sang so much, did so much, wrote so much, spoke so much, and influenced so many people that at times he seemed to be everywhere at once. He recorded more than fifty albums . . . and devoted much of his life and music to the fights for justice, peace, equality, and a cleaner environment. . . . . He believed in the power of community and he created communities everywhere he went.”
The New York Times wrote in his obituary:
“For Mr. Seeger, folk music and a sense of community were inseparable, and where he saw a community, he saw the possibility of political action.
In his hearty tenor, Mr. Seeger, a beanpole of a man who most often played 12-string guitar or five-string banjo, sang topical songs and children’s songs, humorous tunes and earnest anthems, always encouraging listeners to join in. His agenda paralleled the concerns of the American left: He sang for the labor movement in the 1940s and 1950s, for civil rights marches and anti-Vietnam War rallies in the 1960s, and for environmental and antiwar causes in the 1970s and beyond. “We Shall Overcome,” which Mr. Seeger adapted from old spirituals, became a civil rights anthem.”
The book concludes with a timeline, endnotes, selected biography, list of books for children, and perhaps most importantly, a list of recommended recordings.
The artwork by the prolific Puerto Rican American illustrator Raúl Colón employs his trademark style of watercolor washes, colored pencils, grainy paper, and an etching instrument to achieve an effect somewhere between intaglio and pointillism. The muted palette suggests a time in the past.
Evaluation: Both of the new books out on Seeger are lovely, and suggest that there are many different ways to be active on social issues. I hope parents will supplement the reading with a selection of Seeger’s songs. Children have always loved them, and of course the adults may have their own memories associated with his music.
Published by Neal Porter Books, Roaring Brook Press, 2017
Pete Seeger performing for children, “What Did You Learn in School Today?”