RIP, Pete Seeger

Great singer-songwriter/activist Pete Seeger died on Monday at the age of ninety-four. Here are a few picture book versions of his folk songs, reviewed in The Horn Book Guide.

In Turn! Turn! Turn!: Words from Ecclesiastes, Wendy Anderson Halperin illustrates Seeger’s Ecclesiastes-inspired folk song with delicate watercolor and pencil art depicting nature, feelings, folk causes, and Seeger himself with his banjo. Subdivided circles that must be “rotated” to view the tiny scenes within illuminate lyrics such as “a time to be born, a time to die.” Printed music and a CD featuring Seeger and the Byrds are included. (Simon, 2003)

seeger_abiyoyoIn “storysong” Abiyoyo: Based on a South African Lullaby and Folk Story, a ukelele-strumming boy and his magician father are banished: their passions annoy the townspeople. But after each uses his talent to smite the giant Abiyoyo, they earn some respect. Michael Hays’s mural-like illustrations reinforce the story’s worthy enthusiasms: music, magic, and the idea that every voice matters. A CD featuring Seeger performing the titular song is included. (Simon, 1986)

Grandpa’s magic wand again brings to life the ravenous and dunderheaded giant in Abiyoyo Returns (co-authored by Seeger and Paul DuBois Jacobs). The story is about the value of kindness, diplomacy, and compromise. Michael Hays’s gauzy, rainbow-hued illustrations again provide a rollicking backdrop. (Simon, 2001)

With Some Friends to Feed: The Story of Stone Soup, Seeger and Paul DuBois Jacobs retell the familiar story of a soldier making soup with help from a village. The text’s vital, conversational language is punctuated by a two-line song (with musical notation) celebrating the latest addition to the pot. Michael Hays’s illustrations of European peasants convey the story’s optimism and community. An authors’ note encourages readers to work together. A CD is included. (Putnam, 2005)

Lullaby One Grain of Sand, illustrated with dreamy acrylics by Linda Wingerter, evokes the cozy companionship of a parent singing a baby to sleep. The text runs long for a picture book aimed at the littlest lap sitters, but the art, featuring images from nature and different cultures, reinforces the paradoxically personal yet universal quality of lyrics such as “One drop of water in the sea…One little you, one little me.” A musical score is included. (Little, Brown/Tingley, 2003)

While not based on one of his songs, Seeger’s picture book The Deaf Musicians (coauthored by Paul DuBois Jacobs) nevertheless captures the rhythm of music. When jazz pianist Lee loses his hearing, he has to leave his band. Lee learns sign language, which, to him, “looked like jazz,” and meets other deaf musicians. Soon, they’re rehearsing together on the subway, making music with their hands. R. Gregory Christie’s vibrant art, interesting angles, and musical text contribute to the jazzy, upbeat feel of the story. (Putnam, 2006)

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, assistant editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College.

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  1. Thankful I came upon post to highlight Pete Seeger’s “picture book versions of his songs.” Just read about his passing in today’s Times. His music lives on.

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