Hear the Wind Blow AMERICAN FOLK SONGS RETOLD by Scott Sanders (Bradbury: $14.95; 202 pp., illustrated)
“Certain songs haunt us, loop and loop through the mind, sometimes because of their melodies, sometimes because of the stories they tell.” In these words from the introduction to this collection of short stories, Scott Sanders describes the haunting nature of folk songs. Inspired by their brief plots, Sanders has chosen 20 traditional American folk songs and has told his own versions of their stories. These versions may disappoint some readers who expect, because of the subtitle, to learn the background of the songs.
Some are familiar favorites: “Yankee Doodle,” “Frog Went A-Courting,” “On Top of Old Smoky,” “John Henry,” “The Blue-Tail Fly.” Others are less well known. They cover a period in American history from before the Revolutionary War to the present century.
Sanders prefaces each of his stories with the lyrics to the song. Unfortunately, the musical accompaniments have not been included. Brief notes about the origins of each song are in the table of contents.
The best of Sanders’ stories have a sprightly style and are not limited by the plots of the songs. “Frog Went A-Courting” is typical. Although Sanders invests this tale with more vigorous characters and a brighter ending than the lyrics, only a few of the stories have similar comic charm. The choice of songs on which the stories are based causes the book’s tone to vary between the comic and the tragic. The variation of tone and subject matter limits its appeal to children. Some tales, like “Frankie and Johnny” and “Jesse James,” either have inappropriate or unattractive themes for children.
Some of the stories lend themselves to reading aloud, making the book a possible choice for families to share. The publisher directs Sanders’ book toward the children’s market, but for children to derive any pleasure from it, a creative adult must share it with them. Both parents and teachers could use it as a resource for creative writing assignments. After a shared oral reading, children could be invited to create their own stories based on the lyrics of the songs used by Sanders--or other familiar folk songs.
It’s doubtful that a child will select this book to read on his own. There are many more attractive and appealing books from the tradition of American folklore that children can more fully and easily enjoy unassisted.