October 10, 2011, Epoch Times
The passing down of histories and traditions through song
Something about crisp autumn nights harkens memories of crackling campfires, stories, and songs. You know the songs. It seems some songs we’ve always known. They are songs that our grandparents knew and their grandparents before them. They speak volumes through their lyrics and tone, their tempo and mood, of a history gone by and a people long gone.
It is a most common oversight to take for granted these simple folk songs that have been passed down through generations. Two recently published children’s books offer a sense of appreciation for the importance of passing down and preserving such oral traditions.
“Home on the Range” by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by S. D. Schindler is based on the life of John Avery Lomax, the American folklorist who spent his adult years chronicling and recording the songs he’d heard cowboys sing as a child growing up in Texas along the old Chisolm Trail.
“John Avery Lomax grew up singing. Why he probably knew more folk songs, tunes, and ballads than there were cattle in the great state of Texas,” the book begins.
Carefully illustrated, “Home on the Range” follows Lomax through his childhood as he decides to keep a record of these songs that “went straight to John’s heart,” writing down each one on any scrap of paper he could find and keeping them safe in his trunk.
As a young man studying at the University of Texas, Lomax gets up “the courage to show his precious collection of cowboy songs to his teacher.” To his dismay, his professor dismisses them completely. “He rushed away, ashamed and embarrassed. That night he made a fire and burned every scrap of song.”
Not until years later, while undertaking graduate study at Harvard University does John get an opportunity to revisit his beloved songs. He receives a class assignment to present a paper about his “own part of the country, about the place (he) called home.” Of course, John presents his songs. “They seem to have sprung up as quietly and mysteriously as grass on the plains,” he tells his class who responds to his presentation with great applause.
From that point on Lomax makes it his mission to gather and record as many cowboy songs as he can, and his resulting works are today part of the Library of Congress.
“Home on the Range” features a factual account of the life of Lomax in its appendix, as well as a list of sources used to create this story. Simple Internet searches can lead to recordings of the songs mentioned throughout the book and the original written works noted. Teachers and enterprising parents can likely think of many ways to delve further into the topic of Lomax and his cowboy songs, creating projects and lesson plans for young readers with an interest.
As much a coming of age story as a historic account of the man who is responsible for preserving much of America’s traditional folk songs, “Home on the Range,” a work of “historical fiction,” is an inspiring and entertaining read.
“Passing the Music Down” by Sarah Sullivan, illustrated by Barry Root is a heartwarming story of a young boy and a man 75 years his elder who share a love of music and the fiddle. Based on the true story of musicians Melvin Wine and Jack Krack, this enjoyable read-aloud storybook depicts the great friendship that develops between the two as they share their stories and travel the countryside playing their songs.
In time, the elder gentleman reaches the end of his life, and the young one says, “I’ll do just like I promised. I’ll teach folks all your tunes. There’s a part of you that will always be around.” The young man goes on to play at festivals and fairs, never losing sight of the wisdom of his mentor.
Like “Home on the Range,” “Passing the Music Down” features an appendix with additional information including the factual stories of Melvin Wine and Jack Krack, related books and articles, a discography, list of videos, and websites to supplement the experience of the book. Educational opportunities abound when this beautiful story is combined with such resources.
Both “Home on the Range” and “Passing the Music Down” offer young readers an opportunity to consider the importance of the lessons of the past, preserving heritage, and upholding traditions through the enjoyable exploration of folk music. The potential for a very rich experience exists in both titles if supplemented with additional study or simply the enjoyment of the music featured in each book; a fact that has garnered them both their positions on the top shelf.