Bonnie Christensen - Woody Guthrie: Poet of the People
[Editor's note: This is a review of a book for children.]

Woody Guthrie:
Poet of the People

written and illustrated by
Bonnie Christensen


Knopf Book for Young Readers

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Liza Constable (

Since I was a child I've heard about the life and music of Woody Guthrie. His songs were some of the first that I learned when I picked up the guitar at age 10. Later, I imagined him among the characters of John Steinbeckıs book, The Grapes of Wrath. So it was with anticipation that I acquired Bonnie Christensenıs new illustrated book, Woody Guthrie, Poet of the People.

There are many good things about this book. The illustrations! They are beautiful and striking, with firm compositions, a use of color and contrast that leave no doubt of Ms. Christensenıs mastery of her craft. Her mix of printmaking techniques and watercolor wash is at once soft and hard, like the era and geography they portray.

Yet I was disappointed! (for selfish reasons--I had hoped to read this book to my 4 year old). The press release states, misleadingly, "for all ages", but I'd revise that to ages 6 and up. The text is too densely organized and the general vocabulary is beyond most little children's experience.

Still, I am happy to own a copy. It's enjoyable and informative without being overwhelming, and for that reason it's a perfect introduction to Woody Guthrie's life and times for the older elementary or middle school reader. Any school or library must have this book. Concepts beyond his life events are concise and evocatively presented: the droughts of the 1930's, the westward migration of the "Okies", the beginning of labor unions, all of which are studied in various depths in schools. You would not go to this book in search of his songs. It contains the life story that created the music, not the music itself. It is a beautiful (and resourceful) book that celebrates the life of our own Woody Guthrie.

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2001, Peterborough Folk Music Society and Liza Constable.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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