If you feel like singing, books will put words in your mouth


November 28, 1992|By Molly Dunham Glassman | Molly Dunham Glassman,Staff Writer

Kathleen Krull offers a fine definition of folk music: "Good songs that have stayed good songs."

She has collected 63 of those good songs in a great new book, "Gonna Sing My Head Off!: American Folk Songs for Children" (Alfred A. Knopf, $20, all ages).

In the author's note, Ms. Krull refers to "The Fireside Book of Folk Songs," edited by Margaret Boni and illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen in 1947. Soon after our daughter arrived, my husband raided his mother's bookcase and usurped the family copy of "The Fireside Book." Different editions of that classic have perched on top of upright pianos in almost every elementary school in the land.

Now "The Fireside Book" has a worthy successor. "Gonna Sing My Head Off!" is an ideal gift for a young family. It will be passed from one generation to the next, just like the songs inside.

Ms. Krull builds on a strong base of traditional songs, from "The Erie Canal" to "Oh, Susanna!" from "This Little Light of Mine" to "Go Tell It on the Mountain."

Each song includes music for piano and guitar, simply arranged and easy to follow. The lyrics are well-researched, and many songs have fourth, fifth and sixth verses that aren't included in other songbooks.

Ms. Krull also introduces each song with fascinating information about its history. For example, "Michael, Row the Boat Ashore," originated in the Georgia Sea Islands, where slaves sang of the Jordan River with two meanings -- the freedom symbolized in the Bible, and the chilly water they used as an escape route to throw slave owners' dogs off their scent.

It's great that she includes some contemporary songs as well -- Steve Goodman's "City of New Orleans," Tom Paxton's "Going to the Zoo," the Weavers' "If I Had a Hammer," Pete Seeger's "Turn, Turn, Turn," Malvina Reynolds' "What Have They Done to the Rain?" and Arlo Guthrie's "The Motorcycle Song." All are fine choices, but it's hard to believe Bob Dylan didn't make the final cut. "Blowin' in the Wind" and "Mr. Tambourine Man" will endure for generations. And how about "Mr. Bojangles" by Jerry Jeff Walker?

Of course, no anthology is perfect, although this one comes awfully close. Each song is beautifully illustrated by Allen Garns, who works in pastels and oil sticks.

* Another super gift idea is "Woody's 20 Grow Big Songs," music, lyrics and illustrations by Woody Guthrie, with Marjorie Mazia Guthrie (HarperCollins). The songbook is $16, and a package with the book and a 50-minute cassette is $24.95.

Guthrie wrote these songs and illustrated them for his own children, with help from his wife, Marjorie.

The hand-bound book, lost for more than 40 years, was rediscovered in 1989 and has been carefully reproduced, with Guthrie's dedication:

"Marjorie wants this book to be a happy laugher and a goofy dancer, a high flinger, a bumpy jumper, a shy teaser, for all her kids already skipping, and for your kids' kids when they start hopping."

Guthrie's children -- Arlo, Nora and Joady -- joined with their children to record the 20 songs, and the tape includes original recordings of Woody, some remixed to include his children and grandchildren. It's definitely a happy laugher.

* Two Baltimore writers are appearing at the Festival of Children's Books, Festival at Woodholme, 1809 Reisterstown Road, this weekend and next. Today, Susan L. Roth will be there from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Ms. Roth, known for her imaginative collage illustrations, has written "We'll Ride Elephants Through Brooklyn," "Gypsy Bird Song," "Marco Polo: His Notebook," "Story of Light," and has two new books: "Another Christmas" and "Ishi's Tale of Lizard," an American Indian tale translated by Leanne Hilton.

Next Saturday, Dec. 5, Nancy Patz will appear from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Her books include "Moses Supposes His Toeses Are Roses," "No Thumpin' No Bumpin' No Rumpus Tonight," "Sarah Bear and Sweet Sidney" and "To Annabella Pelican from Thomas Hippopotamus."

* Two other writers from Maryland will sign their books at the Catonsville Community College Library Book Fair, Friday, Dec. 11, from noon to 4 p.m.

David Wisniewski, who lives in Bowie, has created four books inspired by tales of other cultures and made inspirational with his intricate cut-paper illustrations: "Elwyn's Saga," "Warrior and the Wise Man," "Rain Player" and his latest, "Sundiata, Lion King of Mali."

Mick Blackistone, of Tracy's Landing in Anne Arundel County, has written "The Day They Left the Bay," "Sunup to Sundown: Watermen of the Chesapeake," "Just Passing Through" and "Broken Wings Will Fly."

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