There Ain't Nobody That Can Sing Like Me: The Life of Woody Guthrie

Overview

Nobody living can ever stop me,

As I go walking that freedom highway;

Nobody living can ever make me turn back;

This land was made for you and me.

We still sing his songs. We still hum his tunes. And many of us still heed his message. Woody Guthrie, the political hillbilly and hayseed minstrel, has become part of the patchwork dreams and ...

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Overview

Nobody living can ever stop me,

As I go walking that freedom highway;

Nobody living can ever make me turn back;

This land was made for you and me.

We still sing his songs. We still hum his tunes. And many of us still heed his message. Woody Guthrie, the political hillbilly and hayseed minstrel, has become part of the patchwork dreams and social conscience that compose America. His songs have been passed along from person to person to become modern anthems of hope and survival through challenging times.

Behind Woody's music, however, was a life that was a tragedy, comedy, passion play, and soap opera in one. He traveled from state to state and marriage to marriage, battled catastrophic fires and debilitating disease, singing all the way in saloons and on street corners, in junkyards and on picket lines. A modern-day troubadour, Woody never let go of the voice of the people -- the outcasts and outsiders rather than the "easy streeters" -- in search of the "freedom highway" that led straight from the heart of his songs to the land "for you and me."

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Neimark (Myth Maker: J.R.R. Tolkien) competently chronicles the tragedy- and triumph-laced life of folksinger and activist Woody Guthrie (1912-1967).The author's narrative meanders somewhat perhaps fittingly, given the wanderings of this "political hillbilly" and "hayseed minstrel with a mind like quicksilver." A nimble use of quotes from Guthrie's songs and autobiography imparts a sense of his unique voice. Noting that his proposal, at the age of 20, to his 15-year-old sweetheart was nixed by her father, Neimark adds, "He decided it was only a matter of turning things around. Until then, he would just keep `groovin' it, greazin' it, dreamin' it, schemin' it.' " But certain themes may be hard for readers to follow. For example, Woody's mother, Nora, was institutionalized; Neimark discloses Nora's diagnosis, of Huntington's chorea (which Woody and two of his children were to inherit), only when Woody learns of it, upon her death, and then almost in passing. Elizabeth Partridge's recent This Land Was Made for You and Me (Children's Forecasts, Feb. 25) offers not only greater depth, detail and context but fresher sources. Final artwork not seen by PW. Ages 10-14. (Sept.)
Children's Literature
It seems hard to believe that Woody Guthrie was born ninety years ago and that his songs are still so popular. He was a boy born into a family that suffered hard times and that he grew up at all is quite a testimonial to the power of survival within humans. He always loved music and it filled a great void in his life. Although a man with little formal education, Woody was an avid reader and seemed to have a memory for both words and music. He also had itchy feet—he was never content to stay in one place even though he married and had three children, he was always ready to take off with no advance warning. Money was not that important although it surely was to his family who couldn't really depend on his support. What Woody felt was important was to understand and spread the word about the plight of the common man. For those folks who lost it all in the Depression, farmers forced from their homes in the dusty arid lands of Oklahoma and Texas, to the farm and factory laborers who wanted a better life. He wrote songs, he wrote articles and he had a radio program. But Woody was his own man and whenever someone tried to fit him into a mold, he just up and left. The book is filled with photographs, comments from friends and family, excerpts from his songs and to anyone interested in Woody, music of that period or actual life for the common man during the Depression this is an excellent choice. 2002, Simon & Schuster,
— Marilyn Courtot
VOYA
The legacy of Woody Guthrie-his powerful words and simple music-lives on nearly four decades after his death in 1967. Among the thousands of his songs, which have been handed down through the generations, include "This Land is Your Land," "So Long, It's Been Good to Know You," "Roll on Columbia," and "The Sinking of the Reuben James." Leaving a horrific childhood behind him, Guthrie hit the road early, marrying three times and fathering nine children. Riding a resurgent wave of the traveling American troubadour's popularity, this new biography is jam-packed with black-and-white photos, cartoons, and drawings, providing an overview of the life of Guthrie and a snapshot into American life in the mid-twentieth century, a time of hunger as well as hope. Guthrie was uncomfortable staying in one place for long, preferring to ride the rails and the roads, wandering throughout the country, singing, writing, and drawing about what he saw, heard, and experienced. Clearly written, concise, and accessible, this portrayal is surprisingly lacking in passion. Guthrie's difficult early childhood of poverty, disease, fire, and family tragedy never fully comes to life. The plethora of quotes from his autobiography Bound for Glory (Dutton, 1943) and song lyrics add his unique flavor to an otherwise bland biography of a complex man. "Music," Guthrie said, "is just a handy way of telling what's on your mind." The final chapter discusses the ongoing poverty in America as well as the current state of folk music traditions. A family tree is included. [Editor's Note: For an award-caliber look at the life of the famous songwriter, see Elizabeth Partridge's This Land Was Made for You and Me (Viking, 2002).] Index.Illus. Photos. Source Notes. VOYA CODES: 3Q 3P M J (Readable without serious defects; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2002, Simon & Schuster, 128p,
— Marian Rafal
School Library Journal
Gr 5 Up-This latest addition to the burgeoning body of Guthrie biographies is especially strong in depicting the folk singer's childhood and adolescence in Oklahoma. His father's business struggles, his mother's erratic and sometimes violent behavior that was later recognized as a manifestation of Huntington's Disease, and his sister Clara's horrible death from burns suffered in a home fire are described in detail, as are Guthrie's homeless teenage years when he developed his musical talents and survived by doing odd jobs. This book is shorter and less detailed than Elizabeth Partridge's This Land Was Made for You and Me (Viking, 2002) but written for a slightly older, more sophisticated audience than Karen Mueller Coombs's Woody Guthrie (Carolrhoda, 2002). While facts about the musician's life are covered in traditional chronological order, one noteworthy feature of this book is the excerpts from his writings, both prose and lyrics, that appear as introductory pages to each chapter. Many of the black-and-white photos will be familiar to readers of the other biographies or Depression-era histories, while others, including a recent photo of Guthrie's three surviving children, are unique to this volume. A family tree and endnotes for each chapter are included.-Ginny Gustin, Sonoma County Library System, Santa Rosa, CA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Woody Guthrie was a "radical folk prophet from grassroots America," "Shakespeare in overalls," and "a national treasure." He was also a hard-traveling, hard-living man, refusing to be held down or held back by family, work, or the expectations of others. He wrote over 1,000 songs, married three times, had eight children, wrote fiction, drew cartoons, and performed across the nation from the 1930s to the late '40s, when drinking and disease began to take their toll. The glory of Woody Guthrie's music and the popular image of the traveling man with a guitar slung over his shoulder will be balanced in the reader's mind by the tragedy of his final years and the odd coincidence of fire throughout his life. In this attractively made volume, complete with photographs, lyrics, family tree, and cartoons, Woody Guthrie is honestly portrayed. A strong point is the final section on the persistence of poverty in the US and the current singer/songwriters who carry on the folk tradition. Brevity is occasionally a problem when the impression given by the author's accounts doesn't fully match the historical record. When Woody's father Charley was burned by the kerosene in a lamp his mother, Nora, was carrying, this was apparently more intentional than the author indicates. And when Woody visited Nora in the asylum in Norman, Oklahoma, Neimark's account is that Nora didn't recognize him, but, in fact, Nora became lucid for a moment and said, "You're Woodrow." Such scenes are not always documented. These quibbles aside, this is a volume that ought to be included in any collection of good books about Woody Guthrie, including Elizabeth Partridge's This Land Was Made for You and Me (p. 107), BonnieChristensen's Woody Guthrie: Poet of the People (2001), and Kathy Jakobsen's This Land Is Your Land (1998). (author's note, source notes, index) (Nonfiction. 10-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780689833694
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
  • Publication date: 9/28/2002
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Pages: 128
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Product dimensions: 8.20 (w) x 10.40 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Anne E. Neimark is the author of ten award-winning biographies for young people, including Touch of Light: The Story of Louis Braille; Sigmund Freud: The World Within; Diego Rivera: Artist of the People; Myth Maker: J. R. R. Tolkien; and Wild Heart, the Story of Joy Adamson, Author of Born Free. The mother of three children, Anne lives with her husband near Chicago, Illinois.
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