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Passing the Music Down
Passing the Music Down (Autographed)

Our Price: $17.99
Pages: 32
Trim: 10.5 x 13.5
Format: Hardcover
ISBN-13: 978-0-7636-3753-8

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by Sarah Sullivan

A young boy travels to the hills of Appalachia to meet the old-time fiddle player whose music he admires. “Will you teach me all your tunes?” the boys asks, and thus begins a friendship that will forge a bond between generations as the boy assumes the mantle of tradition, learning the music that came before him and promising to pass it on.

Inspired by the lives of two renowned fiddlers, this lyrical story is told to the best of the changing seasons. Just as seedlings grow with spring rain and summer sun, the boy develops into a fine musician under the man’s care and instruction. From playing on the front porch to performing this uniquely American music at folk festivals, the two carry on the tradition of passing down the music.


New York Times Book Review

Folk Music, Passed Generation to Generation


“The folk process,” as Pete Seeger has called it, easily lends itself to a populist pastoral myth, with supposedly pure rural tunes handed anonymously from generation to generation. “Passing the Music Down,” written by Sarah Sullivan and illustrated by Barry Root, and “When Bob Met Woody,” written by Gary Golio and illustrated by Marc Burckhardt, break through the anonymity and illuminate the process, even as they remain at least partly beholden to fabled styling.

The folk tradition's intergenerational spirit is explored in “Passing the Music Down.”

At first, “Passing the Music Down” seems to be a sweet, corny tale about going native. Come summer, Sullivan writes with a down-home twang, “folks get to talking about tuning up” and heading to the mountains east of Tennessee to listen to the fiddle players and banjo pickers. “Play ‘Liza Jane’!” shouts a boy, an aspiring fiddler, to a gnarled country virtuoso.

The boy’s family then befriends and visits the old fiddler, buying a place in the mountains near his farm. There, the old man and the boy live out a rural idyll as the folk inheritance is bestowed.

Years pass, and the old man dies. The boy, now grown, fiddles at festivals and fairs where another little boy inevitably shouts out, “Play ‘Liza Jane’!”

Only in an author’s note at the end do we learn that the story is based on two musicians well known in old-timey music circles: the late Melvin Wine, a grizzled veteran who cut quite a figure during the folk revival of the 1960s, and his eager student, Jake Krack, who has gone on to become an ace fiddler in his own right.

The details about the two fiddlers flesh out the storybook version. It turns out, for example, that young Krack’s teacher in Indiana encouraged the initial meeting between the two. Suddenly, a story that verged on sentimental fluff — though enlivened by Root’s evocative clover and mountain mist — is part of musical history, and it is all the better for it.

It is hard to imagine Bob Dylan’s life and music as fodder for a children’s book, let alone a sentimental one. By sticking to Dylan’s early years, though, “When Bob Met Woody” tells a true-life story not entirely unlike that of Wine and Krack.

Already familiar to baby boomers, the story will come as news to their children and grandchildren. The ambitious young musician Bob Dylan (born Robert Zimmerman) strikes out from middle-class Minnesota in search of his hero, the hobo songster Woody Guthrie. After finding Guthrie bedridden in a New Jersey asylum, Dylan sings for the stricken man, who warmly approves. Though the setting is Greystone Hospital in Morris Plains, and not the mountains of West Virginia, the folk process has recurred.

Golio says he aimed to write “a story that told the truth,” and insofar as the truth can be told about Dylan, he has succeeded, making only a couple of trivial factual slips. He charmingly delivers the boy behind the ragamuffin troubadour, doing justice to young Zimmerman’s jumbled early musical interests, including rock ’n’ roll, however off kilter it seems in the familiar folk romance.

“When Bob Met Woody” should stick in young readers’ minds, especially if accompanied by the musicians’ recordings. Somewhere in Dylan’s singular evolving art, Guthrie has always been present. And it’s important for children, as it is for the rest of us, to understand that a very particular genius — on the order of Guthrie and Dylan, and Wine and Krack — has a crucial place in the real-life folk process.

­Sean Wilentz teaches history at ­Prince­ton. His latest book, “Bob Dylan in America,” will appear in paperback this fall.

A version of this review appeared in print on May 15, 2011, on page BR22 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: Oldies for Newbies.

Click here for a direct link to the review: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/15/books/review/childrens-books-about-folk-music.html?ref=review

"Passing the Music Down"
By Sarah Sullivan, illustrated by Barry Root
Candlewick, $16.99, ages 8-11

Inspired by such prominent country fiddlers as Melvin Wine, Lester McCumbers and the much younger Jake Krack, Sarah Sullivan pays homage to musical traditions that don't thrive in coastal conservatories. A young boy, sent by his teacher in Indiana, travels with his parents to Appalachia to find the old-time fiddler whose music he most admires. The family eventually moves to West Virginia, and a musical mentorship develops into a friendship. That plot might not be common, but two aspects of it appeal broadly: that music-making builds bridges across generations, and that different regions have their own powerful appeal.

More Reviews for Passing the Music Down


“The old man tunes his fiddle / and the boy leans in close.” With a fiddler’s rhythm and an Appalachian setting, this celebratory picture book honors the lives of two famous folk musicians and the bond between them. Coal miner Melvin Wise loved to play the fiddle and eventually starred in festivals and competitions. He inspired Jack Krack, who traveled with his parents to West Virginia when he was nine-years-old to become a pupil of elderly Melvin. After Melvin’s death, Jack continued to share the music with future generations. Without sentimentality, the beautiful watercolor and gouache paintings show the bond between the boy and his mentor as they work hard on a farm throughout the year and then, when the work is done, play their fiddles by the fire: “Their lives are stitched together / In a quilt of old-time tunes.” A long author’s note with a discography fills in more about the musician’s lives and work, the prizes they won, and the tradition of passing on the music to younger audiences. – Hazel Rochman


K-Gr 3 – In this gentle look at American folk-music traditions, children are introduced to a family who travels from Indiana to a Tennessee festival to hear an elderly fiddler play. The boy of the family is enthused by the music, and he in turn plays for the fiddler. The musician encourages the family to visit him and offers to play with the child. Root’s sweet illustrations in watercolor and gouache show the man and boy in an almost grandfather-grandson setting, making pancakes, hunting ginseng, and picking beans, and at the end of their hard day’s work, they make music together. Through the passing of time, readers travel with the duo from town to town as they play at different gatherings. As the boy is becoming a young man, the old fiddler is dying, and the book concludes with a poignant message that music creates a shared history in each of us that means that “there’s a part of you that will always be around.” Told in free verse, this picture book would be a good accompaniment to music-appreciation lessons focused on American roots music. It concludes with an extensive resources list and the story of noted fiddlers Melvin Wine and Jake Krack, who played together despite a 75-year age difference, and who inspired this book. – Alison Donnelly, Collinsville Memorial Public Library, IL


Passing the Music Down
by Sarah Sullivan; illus. by Barry Root

As Sullivan explains in an excellent note, Jake Krack was only nine when he and his parents traveled from Indiana to West Virginia to hear noted fiddler Melvin Wine, then eighty-six. Seven years later, in 2002, the boy “became the youngest musician to be named [ West Virginia ] State Fiddle Champion in the under-sixty category.” Inspired by that creative friendship, Sullivan depicts just such an old man and gifted boy, leaving them nameless, adding dialogue, and telling her story with the lyrical, laconic lilt of its Appalachian setting: “‘Know any of my music?’ asks the old man. The boy lifts his arm and plays ‘Peg ‘n’ Awl,’ his chest near to bursting with all that hope inside. ‘That’s pretty good,’ the old man says. ‘You got to start with a spin and end with a skid.’” The boy helps with chores; his family moves nearby; and while the old man is “Passing the Music Down” to this worthy successor, they “become the best of friends.” The steep Appalachian landscape, the companionable fiddlers, and the appreciative crowds that flock to hear them are captured in gentle gouache and watercolor with a golden tinge of pleasant memories. Altogether, it’s a lovely introduction to traditional music. There’s a note on the tunes mentioned plus a list of resources: written materials, recordings by both Krack and Wine, videos, and websites. Joanna Rudge Long


Author: Sullivan, Sarah
Illustrator: Root, Barry

Review Date: April 1, 2011

Sullivan reverently celebrates a musical apprenticeship that spans generations in this poetic narrative based on a real-life relationship and punctuated by the titular phrase. A boy with a penchant for “old timey” music travels with his violin and his parents from Indiana to West Virginia to hear and see a legendary fiddler. As the family draws closer geographically to the boy’s new mentor, the narrative gently moves back and forth from their initial meeting to the boy's family "putting down roots / in the next county over." The pair shares farm chores as well as hours of musical tutelage and accompaniment. Seasons pass, then years: At the elder’s deathbed, the now-teenage youth murmurs, “ ‘I’ll do just like I promised, / I’ll teach folks all your tunes. / There’s a part of you that / will always be around.’ / Passing the music down.” Root’s sun-dappled watercolor-and-gouache illustrations lovingly depict rural West Virginia ’s farms and fairs along with the respectful interplay between a twosome knit together by a deep-seated commitment to musical folkways. Sullivan’s notes, on Melvin Wine and Jake Krack and the tunes, round out a lovely, resonant offering. (resources) (Picture book. 5-8)