Aug 6, 2019

Protests: What a Leader Looks Like

In the midst of nonstop and heartrending news about violence, racism, hate-filled social media rants, (and some so-called traditional news outlets), I find myself desperate for concrete steps I can take to regain hope for a better future. At a recent environmental and educational conference, I shared several nonfiction picture books about community activism, empowerment, and creativity in the face of desperate (and depressing) circumstances. 
My "formative years" (teens and college) encompassed an era of war protests, a budding save-the earth movement, and activism to establish women's equal rights. It's no accident that this same era generated a mainstream rebirth of folk music. Some were rooted in centuries past, some rejuvenated music and lyrics from the thirties' depression era, and some impressive original music emerged.  
The television program, Hootenanny, is only one of the many successful weekly programs that drew families together, bolstered spirits, and developed a common vocabulary of community.
Bloomsbury Books, 2017
Pete Seeger was an icon of that era, and whether or not you are familiar with him, I urge you to click and explore the remarkable impact he had on music and on social change. I'm overdue to share thoughts about an award-winning biographic picture book about him, STAND UP AND SING! Pete Seeger, Folk Music and the Path to Justice.  Written by Susanna Reich and illustrated by Adam Gustavson, with a touchingly personal  forward by Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul, and Mary).
The text deserves attention and praise for its lyrical prose, for the storytelling quality of nonfiction narration, and for the rhythm that propels it forward. All are traits that made Pete's singing such a success. The illustrations also mirror the remarkable quality of Pete's music, pairing artistic brilliance with homey simplicity. Each double spread presents a painterly scene with revealing details and natural frame, while the facing page uses seemingly rough pencil sketches to contrast settings and add informative detail to the text, especially for younger readers. 
As with any important nonfiction picture book, back matter includes helpful author notes, Pete Seeger quotes and citations, and a list of some of his recordings. The quotations noted appear throughout the text, lifting an already wonderful read aloud into the music of his soul:

"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."
This biography shares the beneficial opportunities for academic connections with the three biographies I featured in the last post, HERE, in high level reading applications and also in content area studies. Instead I will honor my thoughts and heart to reflect another use for this wonderful book.
My original intent was to elaborate on educational examples in this review. Recent mass shootings couple with the sad fact that as many or more were shot, injured, and killed in separate events in the same weekend in Chicago. It is inexcusable that little or nothing appears about that in the news. And perhaps the saddest statement about our current societal dysfunction is that I don't need to specify which weekend because these reports could be nearly ANY weekend in 2019. That state of affairs pushes me to make other observations, about the education of our souls.
Twentieth century American history can be explored through folk music, singers, song lyrics, protest movements (from labor to equal rights to economic rights and many more issues), and shifts in political power. Let music lead the way to wider and deeper understanding of the history that led us to today.
And about that Peter Yarrow forward. Of the many moving lines he wrote, the one I return to  now, as the news assaults me and burrows into my soul, erodes my spirit, and suggests the futility of protest or action, one line stands out:
"In these times there is so much that divides us, so much greed, narcissism, and other terrible threats to the dream of creating a caring, just, and peaceful society-- and to the survival of our planet. 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. That was Pete."
And that, I choose to believe, can and should be us. Once again, this is a picture book that has a place and a ROLE in all lives, of any age. May we all stand up and sing, stand together, and change the world.
From Pete and Peter, let us take to heart their words of inspiration, comfort, and follow their  charge to action. 

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