John Briggs Books

And yours, too!

Why I Wrote Pete Seeger, The People’s Singer

The importance of making your own hero relevant to a new audience.

When you write biographies, you get used to the question, “So, why did you write about so-and-so?” For Pete Seeger, that’s an easy answer, at least on the surface – he’s my hero. Has been since I first learned about him in the ‘80s. I admire the stands he took on almost every issue, from the environment to civil rights to workers’ rights. I’m also amazed at his ability to stand up to an onslaught of criticism and never waver in his convictions.

Sounds simple, right? But really, that’s not the reason to write about someone. Just because you admire them doesn’t mean everybody (or anybody) wants to read about them.

Now, I know the best books are a labor of love, and this one definitely qualifies, but if I put in all that work, don’t I want someone to read it?

That second question – that follow-up to “Why did you write about Pete Seeger?”, got me thinking. And that answer turned out to be simple, too.

For generations, people have admired Pete and wanted to be like him. It’s only natural that these parents and grandparents want their children and grandchildren to feel the same way. They want a new generation to appreciate the man who not only became one of the greatest folk singers of the 20th century, but a pivotal voice in social causes.
Pete Seeger, The People’s Singer – as the first children’s book about the iconic performer and activist – allows them to do that. It’s easy to bond with your children and grandchildren (or nieces and nephews) over his music. Kids often know a song or two of his. They learn If I Had a Hammer in school. Abiyoyo and Little Boxes (written by Malvina Reynolds) are fun to sing. And the depth of Where Have All the Flowers Gone? and We Shall Overcome sink in as they get older.

But a book helps them learn about Pete in a deeper way.

From a very young age, students learn about dozens of civil rights leaders, from Martin Luther King to Rosa Parks, Abraham Lincoln to Susan B. Anthony. It’s only fair that Pete, who once stood alongside Dr. King and Ms. Parks, be in that conversation, too. And any child who loves reading about America’s civil rights heroes will love reading about Pete Seeger, too.

So that’s it. That’s the reason I wrote Pete Seeger, The People’s Singer – to help parents and grandparents teach their children all about a man they admire. I’m doing it with my eleven-year old. Middle-graders are finally old enough to understand what Pete stood for and can share what they’ve learned – and they’re going to be as amazed as their parents were when they discovered Pete’s courage in standing up to Congress or fighting corporate power to clean up the Hudson.

Books make things new again to an audience that’s never heard the story. I hope Pete Seeger, The People’s Singer does that for young readers. After all, that’s the real reason I wrote it.

**I’ll be donating 10% of my royalties to the Clearwater Foundation that Pete founded to clean up the Hudson. To help me contribute, please purchase a copy of Pete Seeger, The People’s Singer, or contribute directly at Clearwater.org. Thanks!

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