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Book Review: The Peter Yarrow Songbook: Songs for Little Folks, Illustrated by Terry Widener

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Peter Yarrow’s voice has mellowed since I first heard it two score and five years ago, but it is beautifully matched to the 12 traditional folk songs he sings on the CD that accompanies his book The Peter Yarrow Songbook: Songs for Little Folks.

Yarrow is accompanied by his daughter Bethany Yarrow and a chorus of children in such familiar songs as “Oh, Dear, What Can the Matter Be?” and “Pop Goes the Weasel.” These time-honored songs, some over three centuries old, are all brought to life in a delightfully-illustrated hardcover book. The lyrics are repeated in the second half with chords; a brief history of the songs with explanations of any changes made, and biographical information about Yarrow and illustrator Terry Widener are also provided.

One of the changes made to the songs is in the old “Ten Little Indians” which suffers not a whit by being updated to “Ten Little Puppies,” thereby becoming a little more sensitive (or politically correct, you choose) to everyone’s feelings. Other changes make the songs a bit more “modern” or expand their meaning.

Widener’s unique style gives the lyrics to each of the songs vibrancy. The people who inhabit The Peter Yarrow Songbook are picked from “anytime”; there’s something about them that recalls the 1920s and 1930s, but there’s also something immediate. Certainly some of the clothing hearkens back to an earlier time, but facial expressions and animals are twenty-first century — or, perhaps, timeless.

Other songs included in the book are “The Green Grass Grew,” “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” “Lavender Blue,” “Billy Boy,” “This Old Man,” “Polly Wolly Doodle,” and “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.”

The Peter Yarrow Songbook is a lovely book for families, for grandparents to share with their grandkids, and for bedtime stories or sing-alongs. It would also be a special gift for baby or baby shower, birthdays, and holidays.

Bottom Line: Would I buy The Peter Yarrow Songbook: Songs for Little Folks? Yes, it is so sweet and gentle, I want to share it with my young friends.

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