Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie

Poet of the people

Aside from the song “This Land is Your Land,” I don’t really know that much about Woody Guthrie. I know he’s hailed as an American folk legend in many circles, and I’ve seen his quotes on t-shirts and bumper stickers, but otherwise I don’t remember ever studying about him in music class. In fact, most of my musical education came from my parents (which I am so grateful for, by the way!), so I suppose they didn’t know much about him, either.

So I decided to check out Woody Guthrie: Poet of the People by Bonnie Christensen from the library. I tried reading it aloud to my daughter, but she’s seven and doesn’t sit still for text heavy books just yet (with the exception of Fablehaven, apparently). The book jacket promised short text, but the book is really heavy with it. Still, it’s a very enjoyable book about Guthrie and his music that many older kids might enjoy very much.

In the book, we learn about Guthrie’s family and early life during the Depression. Life was hard for them, but he learned about music from his parents, who both loved to sing. He learned to play the harmonica and created songs about his life and the different experiences that he had while in town. He also suffered greatly as his sister and mother both died, and his father continuously lost jobs until his family farm was eventually lost to him as well.

Guthrie lived alone in an abandoned shack when his father left for better jobs elsewhere, and after he sold newspapers and danced for money, he used what he needed and gave the rest away. That’s pretty inspiring, particularly for someone during those times. After traveling with migrant workers, he settled down with his father for a while, and while living with him he learned to play more music and started his own band.

You can read much more about Guthrie in the book, which is made up of large, bold paintings of him and his family. The dark contrasting art helps display the Great Depression, and the lyrics of Gurthrie’s songs displayed across the top of each page helps it come alive. I was saddened to learn that Guthrie died in his fifties after being diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, but the joy in his music remains. He loved music that made people feel happy, and I think that his legacy still does that today.