Singing the Books; From Francis Scott Key, to Irving Berlin, to Woody Guthrie

When I was in fifth grade my teacher, Miss Pinson, taught us songs. I remember her white blouse and black hair, and how she held her arms up in the air when she directed a song. She made us feel like music was important.  No teacher had done that before (or since). The one song that she dearly loved was “This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie.  We all did, and we sang it out with heart.

I love music.  I love music because it makes you ‘feel’, and Miss Pinson had a way of doing just that.  When I started teaching preschool I sang to the children and taught songs in much the same way.  Children were excited and drawn in.  I began to play the Autoharp, which was simple yet fascinating and captivating for children.  Perhaps The Autoharp was much the same as Miss Pinson’s arms.  Music became something I did well with children.  I was a Pied Piper.

Then something happened; “This Land is Your Land” became a book, with the song’s lyrics illustrated by Kathy Jakobsen.  My favorite song from fifth grade was a book in print!  But it was different, the book included all of the verses to the song.  There are six verses.  I only knew three verses, as that was all Miss Pinson had ever taught us.  I read the book and understood.  Those last three versus talk about people helping people and poverty. The words are simple and ring true.  The sixth verse still chokes me up when I sing it with the children:

“Nobody living can ever stop me

as I go walking that freedom highway.

Nobody living can ever make me turn back.

This land was made for you and me.”

I began to sing this song along with the book.  Children held the pages open, I played the Autoharp, and everyone belted out the words…all six versus.  One verse we sang low and slow because it is a sad verse.  Another verse said, “…didn’t say nothing”, yet in spite of the grammar I was true to the words of the author when singing the song.

We always sing this song standing up.  It’s a proud song.  The children want to sing the song standing up, just as they do when singing “God Bless America”.  When I ask children what songs they want to sing, these are the top two choices, even though I always introduce a host of music and songs to children.  They just love these two songs, and every year we sing our hearts out, standing tall and proud.

Francis Scott Key wrote “The Star Spangled Banner”, and when it became our National Anthem in the early 1930’s Irving Berlin did not like the song as our National Anthem.  He thought it was too difficult.  That inspired him to write “God Bless America”.  Well, Woody Guthrie did not like “God Bless America”, and that inspired him to write “This Land is Your Land”.

I think this is fascinating!  One song inspires the next song, and that song inspires the next song.  Yet, all three songs are historical, important, and popular.  These are the songs we sing in the classroom.  It’s the children’s choice.

We sing these songs with books; Peter Spier’s “The Star Spangled Banner”, Lynn Munsinger’s “God Bless America”, and Kathy Jakobsen’s “This Land is Your Land”.

Miss Pinson would be proud.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
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20 Responses to Singing the Books; From Francis Scott Key, to Irving Berlin, to Woody Guthrie

  1. Léa says:

    Despite growing up in California, I had problems with the patriotic songs. My grandmother taught me the National Anthem way before I began school. Alas, she was from Wales and it is a bit different. As an early writer and reader I also wrote to her. She was living in Canada. Those silly teachers kept telling me ridiculous things such as colour was spelt color and such nonsense. Imagine… 😉 Léa

  2. The other great thing about teaching with music is that it’s incredibly resistant to memory decay. So your children should have a wealth of patriotic knowledge to draw from for their entire lives. No teacher could hope for more. 🙂

    • jlfatgcs says:

      Yes! No memory decay from music. I am that poster child. The best part is the range of songs they embrace, like my Beatles album and Beethoven’s ninth. Thanks, Cathleen. -Jennie-

  3. reocochran says:

    I am a few days late but really excited about your patriotism demonstrated to the children, Jennie. This inspires them to show respect and honor, you are spreading important light into their lives and passing out torches burning in their hearts.
    I sang one I liked since it is a “working” song. I’ve been working on the railroad, all the live long day, don’t you hear the whistle blowing, Dinah won’t you blow. . . When i came to someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah, I would insert each child’s name. The kids liked learning their classmate’s names and it also seemed to resonate with them. We pledged allegiance to the Flag daily at circle. 🙂

  4. By gum, Jennie, you are a real inspiration. I wish that all of my teachers were like you. Some were inspiring, but not many – most were there for the money I guess. Hearts and minds – you got ’em both. 🙂

  5. Miss Pinson sounds like a real gem. I can just see her leading you all in song. So good she was able to pass on her love for music to future generations, like you are also doing.

  6. Grandtrines says:

    Reblogged this on Still Another Writer's Blog.

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