I teach at a school that is approximately 95% Hispanic. Some of our kids were born in the United States. Some of our kids were born in other countries- mostly Mexico, but also El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, and others. Some are legal immigrants. Some are not.
The kids at my school have been a mess since November. They are terrified. Many have family members that have gone back to Mexico, or that are living in fear of being deported. Kids regularly tell me that they are afraid they will go home from school, and that their families will be gone.
This is where the power of books becomes real to me. I read, a lot, because I love words and because I love stories. However, I also read because reading reminds me that I am not alone. Reading exposes me to people that are brave and stand up for others and do the right thing. Reading helps me to be the person that I want to be.
I work really hard to expose kids to books that teach them those important life lessons. I read aloud lots of biographies, historical fiction, and narrative nonfiction. I came across one of those books last week and shared it with my intermediate graders and middle schoolers at my school.
STAND UP AND SING: PETE SEEGER, FOLK MUSIC, AND THE PATH TO JUSTICE is a terrific new picture book biography by Susanna Reich. Reich follows Seeger from the beginning of his life to the end- his adolescent interest in Native Americans, how he learned to play the banjo, the difficulties of the Great Depression, playing his banjo at union meetings and strikes, meeting Woody Guthrie, getting married, being blacklisted, working with Martin Luther King, Jr., protesting the Vietnam War, and finally, building the Clearwater.
I loved this book, mostly because of the life lessons kids can learn from Pete Seeger.
• Pete Seeger teaches kids to use the talents they have been given.
"That night Pete saw that music could fill a room with peace and harmony- even if he still couldn't figure out how to sing and play banjo at the same time"• Pete Seeger teaches kids about taking care of others.
"He read about Native Americans and loved the idea that in some tribes, everything was shared. 'I decided that was the way to live: no rich, no poor. If there was food, everyone ate; if there was no food, everyone went hungry.'"• Pete Seeger teaches kids that sometimes it's hard to stand up for what you believe.
"On tour, the Almanacs slept on people's couches or in cheap hotels, including one with enormous cockroaches in every room. The following winter in New York City, they couldn't afford heat in their apartment. Pete didn't mind the cold. It felt good to be making a difference in the world."
• Pete Seeger teaches kids to have integrity.
In 1955, Pete was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He refused to take the Fifth Amendment, but also refused to share names or rat on his friends and colleagues. These choices came at great personal cost- for over a decade Seeger was blacklisted and was not allowed to appear on commercial shows.
• Pete Seeger teaches kids to be brave.
At one point in his life, Pete and the African American singer, Paul Robeson, were in an concert near Peekskill, New York. Some people were angry that whites and blacks were performing together. After the concert, they followed Pete and his family, and threw rocks at the car. Every window was shattered.
"Later Pete found two rocks inside the car and cemented them into his fireplace. They always reminded him how important it was to stand up for his beliefs."STAND UP AND SING: PETE SEEGER, FOLK MUSIC, AND THE PATH TO JUSTICE is illustrated by Adam Gustavson (if you are familiar with Reich's work, he also illustrated FAB FOUR FRIENDS, about the Beatles). Each two-page spread includes a large full color oil painting; many also have a pencil sketch. The book begins with a foreword by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul, and Mary. End notes include an author's note, as well as an extensive list of additional sources.
In these very difficult times, it's important to be able to give kids models of people who had integrity, stood up for what they believed, and did something to make the world a better place. STAND UP AND SING: PETE SEEGER, FOLK MUSIC, AND THE PATH TO JUSTICE is definitely a resource you can use. I recommend it highly.
Pete Seeger at Obama's inauguration.
An interview with Pete Seeger