Tuesday, September 20, 2005


Written by Jane Yolen

1 comment:

Jane said...

This is another long story. After having done a bunch of music books with my son Adam in the 80s and 90s, I made a list of other possible interesting collections, and Work Songs was high up on that list. I sent the ideas around to many of my publishers, and while there was a modicum of interest, no one wanted to do any more. They felt there were too many music books out there.

Then I met Susan Van Metre at Dutton and she loved the idea. She gave us a contract. But wait! You have probably already noticed that the book was not published by Dutton. Susan left to help build up the Abrams children's book line, and persuaded Dutton to let us buy the book back (they didn't care, it was Susan's book, after all!) and resell it to Abrams.

Susan's idea was to illustrate the book with folk art and of course Abrams, being the great American Art Book house, was the perfect place to do such a book. It went from being called WORK SONGS to WORKING AMERICA to GIT ALONG LITTLE DOGIES to APPLE FOR THE TEACHER. Adam and I wrote several new work songs, but the rest are mostly folk songs. Each song is dedicated to a specific type of work: railroad engineer, programmer, teacher, doctor, farmer, etc.

Originally the book had a bunch of punning gags about the type of work running at the bottom of the song, to be illustrated in cartoon-style. But the folk art illustrations and their annotations took up so much room, it was an idea that got dropped. (I still miss it as a leavening agent.) However, the choices made for the book--the folk art and carefully annotations are brilliant.

What reviewers have said: "Follow American history by listening to what different workers have to say about their jobs in these songs. Endnotes and folk art illustrations give historic context."--Instructor

“Thirty occupations, ranging from astronaut to weaver, are celebrated in song. The tunes are simple and usually short. Several were written and composed by the authors, such as "My Father Is a Programmer," "Bodies on the Line," and "Stand and Wait." Traditional examples are both familiar, like "Stewball" and "Casey Jones," and relatively unknown. . . . The illustrations provide a vivid picture-book bonus. . . Folk weather vanes, wooden sculptures, paintings, and textiles (tablecovers, quilts, rugs) in bright, sharp reproduction lend charm and naive directness to the accompanying songs. These touching illustrations perfectly animate the world of the laborers reflected in the songs. History, art, and music work in sweet harmony here.”—School Library Journal