Let Your Voice Be Heard: The Life And Times of Pete Seeger

Book review by
Kyle Jackson, Common Sense Media
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Riveting biography of beloved folk singer, activist.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Not only does this biography give a detailed account of an important figure in folk music, but it also leads the reader through many of the pivotal moments and movements in American history, from organized labor and unionization efforts during the Depression, to World War II and the Cold War, up through the civil rights movement and the struggle for environmental justice and preservation.

Positive Messages

As the final words of the book put it, "His life stands as a testament for social and political change, reminding everyone to fight for what they believe in and to let their voices be heard." As Pete himself is quoted, "When you sing, you feel, I'm not alone."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Seeger's lifelong dedication to social justice and his belief in the power of music to bring people together in harmony and shared compassion is inspirational in its purity and simplicity. 

Violence

There's a brief description of a violent encounter with an angry mob who pelted Pete's car with rocks when he was widely hated as a suspected Communist. 

Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Let Your Voice Be Heard: The Life and Times of Pete Seeger is an uplifting biography of the "father of American folk music" that chronicles his singular career as a performer, songwriter, and activist. Tailored to a middle school audience who may not be familiar with Seeger's inspirational story and iconic work, the book takes readers on a journey through 20th-century American history and the role folk music played as the soundtrack of social justice movements.

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What's the story?

LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF PETE SEEGER tells the story of a national treasure, folk legend Pete Seeger, who penned such classics as "If I Had a Hammer," "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?," "Wimoweh," and "Turn, Turn, Turn," in addition to adapting and popularizing the civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome." The first half of the book traces the epic life of Seeger, from his nomadic boyhood days as the son of a leftist activist, to his infatuation with Appalachian music and the banjo, to his breakout as a darling of the Greenwich Village folk scene, which catapulted him to fame and fortune. At the height of his popularity with his group the Weavers, Pete was targeted by Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee, who harassed and interrogated hundreds of American citizens over suspected ties to the Communist Party. Disrupting his career and threatening his family, McCarthy's witch hunt ultimately produced no evidence of wrongdoing, but the damage to Seeger's reputation and professional opportunities had already been done. In spite of the persecution he faced, Pete remained committed to performing and composing songs about justice and freedom that he shared across the country and throughout the world, continuing the legacy of his friend and mentor Woody Guthrie. The second half of the book traces his history as an activist who marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and countless others. He spent much of his career performing for causes he believed in, leading sing-alongs at union rallies, civil rights protests including the March on Washington, demonstrations to promote environmentalism, and even Occupy Wall Street at the ripe old age of 90.

Is it any good?

Pete Seeger's life and music represent the very best of what America has to offer, and his consistent dedication to virtuous ideals and the struggles of common people was truly remarkable. Children's book expert and author Anita Silvey's biography is rich in detail and full of excellent historical information, anecdotes, and archival photographs, though some of the writing is slightly clunky. 

Because Seeger did not retain the fame and notoriety that he deserved, many people, especially of younger generations, might not know of his incredible story, though surely they may be familiar with some of his songs and many of the folk singers he inspired and influenced, including Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, and others. Let Your Voice Be Heard does the important work of sharing Pete's legacy and message with the next generation, who may be inspired to look up his music and pick up where he left off when he passed away in 2014.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the history touched upon in Let Your Voice Be Heard: The Life and Times of Pete Seeger. What was the struggle for workers' rights and unionization all about? How did it connect to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s? 

  • What is the place of folk music in American culture today? Why are people such as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger such legendary figures, and what wisdom can they offer modern audiences?

  • Whom do you see as the most visible advocates for justice and peace in contemporary America? Do musicians and artists still have a part to play in the education and mobilization of young people?

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