Woody Guthrie: Poet of the People

Woody Guthrie: Poet of the People

by Bonnie Christensen

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A beautiful tribute to America’s greatest folksinger.

Woody Guthrie spent his life putting into words and music what the rest of America was thinking. He roamed from coast to coast and captured the despair of those displaced by the Great Depression and the dust bowl, eulogized workers, and celebrated the great natural beauty of America. This is an


A beautiful tribute to America’s greatest folksinger.

Woody Guthrie spent his life putting into words and music what the rest of America was thinking. He roamed from coast to coast and captured the despair of those displaced by the Great Depression and the dust bowl, eulogized workers, and celebrated the great natural beauty of America. This is an introductory biography presented as a picture book with a brief lyrical text and powerful, hand-tinted, woodcut-like illustrations. It includes the complete lyrics to “This Land Is Your Land” and excerpts from his other songs. A book for all ages, it makes this talented and tragic man accessible to young children and will please his older folksinging fans with its stunning art.

A Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor Book
An ALA Notable Book
New York Times Notable Book
Parents’ Choice Gold Award Winner
An Oklahoma Book Award Finalist

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Mixed-media woodcut-like illustrations and fine writing make this an outstanding picture-book introduction to Woody Guthrie. The complete lyrics to ‘This Land Is Your Land’ are included, along with a time line of Guthrie’s life.”—Book Links
Publishers Weekly
Seemingly tapping into the tone of Guthrie's own lyrics, Christensen's (Breaking into Print) folksy, sometimes plaintive narrative offers a resonant profile of this songwriter's life and work. Born in Oklahoma in 1912 to parents who were both fond of singing, Guthrie throughout his childhood "heard the songs that swept across the prairie wind and rain songs, thunder rumbling, lightning crackling songs." The author incorporates snippets of Guthrie's lyrics as she follows his peripatetic path, first to west Texas where he learned to play the guitar and gravitated toward "old-time country music that got people laughing and forgetting their worries" and later to California. Christensen deftly reveals how Guthrie's songwriting was propelled by the issues of his era; he sang his "Dust Bowl ballads" on the radio in Los Angeles and, moved by the plight of unemployed migrant farm workers, coal miners and factory hands, he "became their voice, and songs were his way of speaking." His articulate and far-ranging voice rings clearly through these pages, which feature the full lyrics to "This Land Is Your Land" sprawled in oversize hand lettering across the top of each spread. Reminiscent of woodcuts, the mixed-media, earth-toned illustrations creatively evoke the period and the variegated landscapes of this gifted performer's life. All ages. (Oct.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
This bold, picture book biography of the well-known composer of over a thousand songs invites a whole new audience of readers learn about Guthrie's work. Illustrated in dramatic mixed media with black-lined, woodcut-like illustrations tinted in dusty pastel shades, the pictures compel the reader's attention with their fresh depiction of the Dust Bowl era and Woody's later involvement with workers from many occupations. Christensen's text presents highlights and lowlights of Woody's life with enough detail and poetry to make this a joy to read aloud. Verses from four songs, with the complete text of "This Land is Your Land," are included at the end, giving readers a much-too-modest sample of his music. But an important part of the design element are the idiosyncratically hand-written verses from "This Land...," lilting in blue across the top of each page as if to remind the reader that Woody's life was threaded together with a concern for poor and unfairly treated people. A timeline of "Important Events" further rounds out the portrait of Guthrie. Kathy Jakobsen's more brightly colored illustrations for the song found in her book This Land is Your Land, features an appreciation by Pete Seeger and a short double-page biography that augments Christensen's book but does not supplant it. All in all, this book is a stunning and worthy tribute to one of America's most influential songwriters and the founding father of the folk singing movement that grew strong in the Thirties and once again in the Fifties. 2001, Knopf, $18.99 and $16.95. Ages 8 to 12. Reviewer: Susan Hepler
School Library Journal
PreS-Gr 4-An introductory biography in a picture-book format. The particulars of Guthrie's life unfold chronologically, starting with his birth in 1912. Readers learn of his young years in Oklahoma and the difficulties the family endured when his father lost his job, and his mother died. When he was 17, his father went to Texas, and Guthrie was left to fend for himself. He learned to play the guitar and began writing songs. He crisscrossed America several times, talking to workers along the way, and became the voice of the poor throughout the Great Depression. After World War II, he settled down, had a family, and began writing and singing happier songs. A conclusion supplies further information about him. The song "This Land Is Your Land" is painted across the tops of the pages. End matter contains all seven verses of it (without the music) and a list of important events in Guthrie's life. Mixed-media paintings have the look of woodcuts, and include a lot of black and heavy black line. This Land Is Your Land (Little, Brown, 1998), illustrated by Kathy Jakobsen, features the same song as this book, with music, and a tribute by Pete Seeger that gives almost as much information as is found here. The subject matter is of limited appeal to today's youth, so purchase only where you feel there is a need for and/or to complement existing material.-Kathleen Simonetta, Indian Trails Public Library District, Wheeling, IL Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
This moving biography honors the life and work of the legendary folk singer who celebrated the lives of working people all over the US. Guthrie, born in Oklahoma in 1912, came from a poor family filled with music, but devastated by death and illness. As a youngster, he absorbed the sounds of country living and the traditional music of Oklahoma and Texas. Later, during the Great Depression, he used these memories to become a popular voice for the dust bowl refugees, writing and singing about them and performing on radio in Los Angeles. He spent years moving from place to place in support of the union movement, migrant field workers, and coal miners. Christensen (Moon Over Tennessee, 1999, etc.) writes briefly of his marriages, his children, and his eventual tragic death from Huntington's disease, but the thrust is his devotion to the cause of downtrodden workers. The words of his signature song "This Land is Your Land" run along the top of each page and are printed in their entirety at the end along with a timeline and Web site citation. (No bibliography or source notes are included.) Christensen's text is strong and beautiful, as rich in images as her subject's music. Through them, the reader will get a wonderful sense of the soul of her subject and his times. Read aloud, this could work for younger readers, but the dramatic mixed media, woodcut-like illustrations in a picture-book format will attract older ones as well. A powerful, lyrical tribute to the musician whose music is so much a part of our lives. (Biography. 8-10)

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
9.00(w) x 10.70(h) x 0.20(d)
Age Range:
3 - 7 Years

Meet the Author

Bonnie Christensen‘s highly praised woodcut-like illustrations for Woody Guthrie perfectly capture the Depression and World War II era. She also wrote and illustrated The Daring Nellie Bly. She teaches art at St. Michael’s College in Vermont.

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