Stand Up and Sing!

The older I get, the more I think picture book biographies are some of the most inspirational seeds that allow meaningful conversations in classrooms to happen. Maybe it’s because I clearly see that a life is a story and that anytime we hear a story told, we have the opportunity to learn. As we connect deeply to a person through their story, we reflect on ourselves and our communities. We have the chance to think about things in new ways. Kids get it too. A few years ago I asked some of my students why biographies needed to be shared. Their responses revealed a lot. Some highlights:

  • “I like those books that tell the story of someone who can’t but then they did.”
  • “It’s so we can know that one person can change things.”
  • “These books teach us about community and dreams. We should think about that.”
  • “They show me not to be scared.”

I have a new must read biography that I think is particularly timely for its messages about standing together for truth and justice:

Stand Up and Sing! Pete Seeger, Folk Music, and the Path to Justice written by Susanna Reich and illustrated by Adam Gustavson Forward by Peter Yarrow (Bloomsbury 2017)

This detailed biography would make an incredible read aloud. It is a story to share over multiple read aloud sessions. There is much on every page for discussion and elaboration. The full page illustrations tell a beautiful story as well. Looking closely at these allows the reader to move through one life and decades of history.

I first read this book about three weeks ago. It was a humbling experience. I closed the book and felt a strange mix of fired up and sad and quiet. I began to do some of my own further reading about Pete Seeger, often realizing songs I have known all my life were songs he had written. This took me down further thinking paths.

The sadness came from a reaction to current day news and media coverage. There is so much in stories about people that is about self rather than other. Pete Seeger clearly lived a life where self and others were completely intertwined. His motivations were clear and strong. He respected the truth. He valued its importance. He valued social justice as our most important goal to attain. I think my sadness came from just acknowledging the loss of Pete Seeger who passed away in 2014. In many senses, my sadness has no place because Pete did his work through music and music has some of the most incredible lasting power of any medium. Power to wash over people. Become part of their motivation. Become part of their own story.

I picked up and reread this story a few times over the past few weeks. Over multiple readings, I have been inspired by Seeger’s commitment to use music as a vehicle to unite people over important issues. Pete Seeger was motivated early on in his life by folk music and the connection between audience and musician. He recognized that the content of songs could be transformative.

I was reminded of precious Thursday afternoons of recent years experiencing a room full of music. My class had the weekly opportunity to sing with the talented Jill Samycia from St. James Music Academy. Singing together brought a joy and a connection to our community. There is such power in singing together especially when the lyrics hold messages of hope.

Susanna Reich’s account of Seeger’s life brings particular questions to the surface numerous times:

What do we notice?

What speaks to us?

How do these things shape our work? Our actions? How do they form our truth?

Pete Seeger‘s life work was his music. Through music he conveyed his love of people, equity and justice. Reich explains that Pete “saw that music could fill a room with peace and harmony. . . ” A wish to make this happen is what motivated him to become a more accomplished musician.

Seeger‘s path was not an easy one. His end goal wasn’t fame and fortune. It was to lead people in song. He wanted to “sing for – and with – average working folks.”

His courage, his commitment to peace, the rights of everyone in a society and hope for our world live on in his music.

Such an incredible story of one man. Back matter includes an important author’s note, a list of quotes, detailed sources and a list of popular recordings.

Recommended for Grades 3 to 8.

Thanks to Alyson from Kid Lit Frenzy for the inspiration to read and share more nonfiction picture books in 2017. Follow the link to Alyson’s blog to read about more nonfiction books you need to read!

Bad Irony: Slice of Life

I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.

Celebration: Let there be music

I am digging deep this week. Usually writing this post is a source of joy. Today, after a very long week, I mostly want to crawl into my bed and hide under the pillows. But, I am pretty certain, that this is all the more reason to find things to celebrate. I thank Ruth Ayres, for the inspiration and her Celebration Link up that she hosts each week.

celebrate link up

This week there is huge escalation between the British Columbia Teacher’s Federation (our teacher’s union) and B.C. Public School Employer’s Association (bargaining on behalf to the government). There are rotating strikes – so we were out of the classroom on Monday and now the government has locked us out for part of every day and is deducting 10% of our daily salary each day. We can not arrive at school before 8:15 a.m. and must leave by 3:45 p.m. We are not permitted to work with students over recess or lunch. It is ugly and stressful. I am exhausted and feeling disorganized and completely out of sorts. I love my job but I have lots of needs in my room. The teaching and learning work when I am energetic and “on my game.” This week, with everything going on, it was hard to be in that place. A challenging week to feel inspired and passionate about a job that I love. Which just felt all kinds of wrong.

But at the end of the week, I do have gratitude. When I look back over the week, there were many happy moments with the children. And there was one half hour block that was my “guaranteed happy” – our music class on Thursday afternoon with Jill Samycia Recently I wrote a letter in support of what this outreach program means to me. I am sharing it here:

 St James outreach Celebration: Let there be music

Every week, there is almost a guarantee that I will be moved to tears with my students. Not out of sadness. Or anger. Or frustration. But out of pure joy.

This moment happens Thursday afternoons when my children (an energetic Grade 2/3/4 class) come upstairs to sing with Jill Samycia from St. James Music Academy.  On the way up there is noise – singing, humming, chatter. On the way down it is louder, inspired by thirty minutes of time with Jill. While we are there, there is rarely a silent moment. A second here or there when we breathe between lyrics and the piano momentarily stops. Between songs, the children are buzzing. They make requests. They keep singing a favourite part. They are negotiating who will sing with who if there are “solos” Natter, natter, natter. And then Jill begins to play and whoa . . . Whoa.

My chatty, energized, silly class rises up and sings. It is precious and magical and shockingly amazing. These children belt out lyrics. Elements of soul, passion and emotion reveal themselves. They smile. They sway. Some get up and dance. We all get lost in the song. I often kind of cry. Because Jill finds the place inside of these children that is talent and music and confidence and risk taking all rolled into one.

She brings it out and it shines bigger each week. It strengthens who we are as a community. It strengthens the spirit of each child. I catch smiles of happy and proud and calm. Children sing solos that are barely audible at first. Others knock us over with throaty style that seems to channel from some older, wiser soul. Some of these kids are kids who barely say boo in class. Others are kids who never stop talking. But when we sing, we all have voice. When we sing together . . .

So Thursday afternoon is a beautiful, inspired time with my students and with Jill. Guaranteed wonderful. Guaranteed magic. A piano. A room full of kids. A talented teacher who has ways . . .  Let there be music.

Thank you St. James Music Academy and the amazing outreach program. Thank you Jill Samycia.

With gratitude and Thursday tears,

Carrie Gelson

Grade 2/3/4 Teacher

Seymour Elementary

This I celebrate! Thank you to Jill and the sounds of singing that gave me my “guaranteed happy” in a challenging week. It always means a lot. This week, it was especially wonderful. And oh so needed 🙂

Wishing everyone a wonderful week!