About the Holiday
Song titles can be evocative of so many emotions, and country song titles seem to take this fact to a whole nuther level. Sure, the travails of heartbreak may cause misery and despair, but I bet you can’t help smiling—just a little—when you read titles like this: I Would Have Writ You A Letter, But I Couldn’t Spell Yuck!, You Were Only A Splinter As I Slid Down The Bannister Of Life, and Did I Shave My Legs for This? So, today, celebrate by finding and listening to some quirky country songs that tickle your fancy.
Talkin’ Guitar: A Story of Young Doc Watson
By Robin Gourley
“Yonder, where blue mountains meet the sky, Arthel Watson was born into a world of music.” Music, for Arthel, was much more than his mama’s singing at the end of the day. It was the calls of animals and birds, the burbling river, the whistles of trains, and the clatter of farm machinery. He loved to listen to the rain and the wind and the silence between sounds too. “Arthel had ears like a cat. Maybe it was because he was blind.”
Arthel just couldn’t help but make music whenever and wherever he could. Pots became drums, and cowbells rang like cymbals. Arthel even strung a steel wire across the barn door to strum. When Pappy gave him a harmonica, Arthel practiced until the screechy notes settled into a purr. When Pappy made him a banjo, he practiced until the “rusty door hinge” creak was replaced by spritely melody. One day when Arthel plinked out a few notes on his cousin’s guitar, his father made him a promise. “‘Son, if you can play a song by the time I git home from work, we’ll go into town and buy you your own guitar.’”
By the end of the day, Arthel had composed a “sweet, simple song” from the few chords he had learned. With a “belly full of butterflies,” he played it for his family and earned himself a guitar. From then on Arthel carried his guitar everywhere, learning from records at home and from songs on the radio. He memorized the rhythms of farm work and the songs of various animals, and between chores he practiced, practiced, practiced. “All those chores and all that practice made him sharp as a whittling knife and tough as a hickory.”
Arthel decided that if he could work just like everyone else, he could probably play music as well as the artists he listened to on records and on the radio. He began to compose his own music. “It felt as natural as dew on a foggy mountain morning.” Arthel played “what he couldn’t see. He could make his guitar sound like a muskrat or a groundhog or a ‘wooly boogie bee’” and sing the stories of the countryside he loved.
An Author’s Note following the text reveals more about Arthel’s life, the influences on his music, and how he earned the nickname “Doc.”
Robin Gourley’s heartening biography of Doc Watson is perfectly attuned to her young audience. Readers are introduced to Arthel as he soaks in the sounds of life around him and only learn several pages into the story that he was blind. His blindness is not mentioned again except for the subtle acknowledgement that “he reckoned if he could work like everyone else, he could play music like the folks he heard on the records and the radio”—which becomes universal inspiration for all. The emphasis that practice develops natural talent and pays off is also a great lesson for readers who may just be discovering their own talents.
Gourley’s soothing watercolors are suffused with the beautiful pastels of Appalachia, which was both home and muse to Anthel. Vignettes take readers inside Anthel’s home to discover the Victrola and the old radio that were his early teachers and introduce his family, who surrounded him with encouragement as he grew from a child to a young man—always with a guitar in his hands.
Ages 4 – 7
Clarion Books, 2015 | ISBN 978-0544129887
To discover more about Robbin Gourley, her books, and her art, visit her website!
Quirky Country Music Song Titles Day
When a musician follows notes, they create a song. What will you find when you follow the numbers on this printable Musical Dot-to-Dot?
Picture Book Review