Thursday, January 26, 2017

Let your voice be heard: The life and times of Pete Seeger by Anita Silvey

I'm of two minds about this biography of Pete Seeger. On the one hand, it's good. Silvey does an excellent job of taking the reader into the world of Seeger, not only discussing his life and the causes he espoused, but also the formation of the musical movements he was involved in and the wider historical events going on that Seeger affected. She touches on his personal and professional life, covers the effect of HUAC on Seeger's life and that of his family and friends, and talks about his legacy in song, family, and the people he reached through his concerts and life.

There are a few black and white photos scattered throughout the book. An afterward discusses the author's own feelings about Seeger and his life. There is also a list of sources, bibliography, and index.

So, on the one hand this is a powerful biography of a public figure who, whether or not kids know his name and legacy, is part of the American culture. On the other hand, I have to say that, honestly, the cover is not very appealing. It's difficult to get many kids to read books that are large sections of text with only a few black and white photos to break up the print. Biographies of deceased musicians just don't do well in general in my town (we're not very into the arts scene). I'm also conflicted about Silvey's acknowledgement that she was unable to be neutral as a biographer due to her personal interest in Seeger and feelings about his persecution by HUAC. I have to admit that some of this is my own personal mistrust of anything that feels remotely emotionally manipulative, which makes reading about Seeger's concerts and the responses somewhat cringe-worthy. But apart from my own feelings, I think part of the goal of nonfiction is to teach kids to think critically - and that may be difficult to do in what is, after all, a mostly laudatory biography.

Verdict: I'm not sure this is a good fit for my library, mostly because of the lack of interest in the subject. However, if you have kids interested in music and/or activism or want to compare biographies this would make a great choice.

ISBN: 9780547330129; Published 2016 by Clarion; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

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