Monday, May 01, 2006

The theme is dead. Long live the theme!

The corpse of poetry month is barely cold, but now it's Foster Care Month. (It's also National Bicycle Month, but I don't really have anything to add to that.) Foster care books are a subset of one of my favorite genres, so I'm really excited. I have a huge batch of related books from the library and I'll try to get to them all.

Meanwhile, it's also May Day, so here's the most appropropriate review I have on hand:

This Land is Your Land words and music by Woody Guthrie.
Illustrated by Kathy Jakobsen. Little, Brown, 1998 (0-316-39215-4)
$15.95; 2002 (0-316-06564-1) $19.95 book and CD

"This Land is Your Land" has certainly been illustrated before, but
perhaps never as honestly or as movingly as here. A tribute to Woody
Guthrie, as well as an illustration of his most popular song, this
book does justice to his work as a social activist by including the
more sombre and usually censored lyrics ("As they stood there hungry,
I stood there asking/Is this land made for you and me?"), as well as
images of America that include homeless people and CIO strikers. But
like most of the song itself, the mood of the book is generally
upbeat, showing that America is a wonderful land that can get even
better, if people care enough.

Woody himself is our guide through the verses of the song, walking
that ribbon of highway, seeing that endless skyway, in delicate,
precise folk-art style paintings. For the many choruses, Jakobsen
shows a multitude of American images, from a placid Iowa cornfield to
a jewel-like Mardi Gras float; the lavishly designed pages also
include framed quotes from Woody and verses of his other songs. Many
events from his life are included: one of the most memorable is a
scene of Woody playing his guitar, depicted accurately with its
slogan, "this machine kills fascists." If there's a flaw in the book,
it's that images from the past and present are mixed indiscriminately,
making it difficult for us to know if we're seeing an image as Woody
saw it or as it exists today. Dates would have been helpful.

This is a book that will captivate adults interested in folk music,
who can enjoy playing spot the folk legend in its pages; an especially
satisfying spread shows Woody and many of the folk artists he sang
with (Leadbelly, Phil Ochs, Odetta, etc.), while underneath a tribute
concert to him includes John Wesley Harding, Country Joe McDonald and
Bruce Springsteen. (Both, of course, include Arlo Guthrie and Pete
Seeger.) Young readers may not have the same appreciation for this
historical reference, but can certainly enjoy the wealth of images and
the thoughtfulness the words and illustrations engender.

This edition comes with a CD of nine of Guthrie's best loved
children's songs, including "Bling-Blang" and "Riding in My Car, "
sung by Guthrie and his son Arlo Guthrie; I think the older recordings
by Guthrie have been overdubbed, in order to give a more consistent
sound to the CD.