The Banjo strikes winning note with readers
Music runs in the veins of Jere Hudson and his son, Zach, who both note one of their Irish ancestors fled the Old Sod just ahead of British authorities hunting him.
The story is he sneaked out of Ireland with his fiddle, disguised as a woman, Jere says with a chuckle, clarifying it was his great-great-great-great grandfather and not the fiddle who looked like a lady.
Jere plays fiddle and guitar and Zach plays fiddle and banjo and also is a noted square dance caller. Both Hudsons also have made their mark in education here. Now retired, Jere taught art for 27 years to middle and elementary students in southern Oregon, and Zach teaches writing, reading and academic skills at Mt. Hood Community College as well as ITT Technical Institute in Portland.
The Hudsons love of music has borne fruit in Zachs second illustrated book, The Banjo. Unlike his 2010 graphic novel Minions of the Happy Isles, which was aimed at an older audience, The Banjo is designed to reach children in grades two through six.
The Banjo details the story of Peter, who is unable to play in the elementary school orchestra because he doesnt have a violin and his parents cant afford to buy him one. Instead, hes given an old banjo by a man hosting a yard sale, and winds up falling in love with the instrument.
The story takes a number of twists and turns, including the budding of an unlikely friendship between Peter and the seemingly remote school principal, Mrs. Blaine, whom most of his classmates fear but whose grandfather played banjo.
Sometimes he would sing old, old songs from far away countries, Mrs. Blaine tells Peter. Sometimes he sang songs to dance to, and sometimes he sang lullabies.
This was the story that really captured my imagination, Zach says, noting he and his wife, Jenny, have three children between the ages of 1 and 6 who love having books read to them. Zach says he wanted to compare and contrast the world of folk music as represented by the banjo and classical music as represented by the violin.
The banjo is really distinct, Zach says. Its one of those instruments that wasnt adapted from the classical tradition, noting its origins in various African instruments. Its really a product of the folk culture.
The story allows children to realize they can take charge of learning music for themselves, he says, because folk musicians constantly reinvent their music. Children can then use that ability learn from others different kinds of music such as classical, he adds.
Folk music is a real do-it-yourself genre, Zach says. Kids can find it really accessible.
Dad lends a hand
Jere Hudson illustrated the book, basing his drawings of Peter on his next-door neighbors child, Ian Shaddix, 9, a fourth-grader at Lewis and Clark Montessori Public Charter School in Damascus.
This was a very slow process for me, Jere says, noting he used a style akin to Japanese pen and ink brushstrokes. He added that Ian was a great model and even learned a little banjo in the process.
He said he invented a song, Jere adds with a smile, noting Ian plucked out a repeated four-note pattern for him.
As for Ian, he couldnt be more thrilled he played such a significant role in the books creation. He enjoyed plucking the banjo, he adds.
Its fun to play but I dont think I want to take lessons.
He also enjoyed the book.
I read it, and its actually a pretty good book, he says. I liked it.
I saw one of my friends at school reading it, he adds. She said it was a pretty good book.
He also notes he particularly liked the fact the boy thought he was going to get in trouble with the principal, but instead befriended her through music.
His mother, Cathy Shaddix, was happy with the story as well.
I was very pleased because it looked quite a bit like my son, she says. He had a picture of the boy and his mother, and it made it look like I keep a really clean home and bake, she adds with a chuckle.
The Banjo has already received several positive customer reviews on Amazon.com.
I read The Banjo to my grandson (6) yesterday, the first time for both of us, one customer wrote. I was getting choked up reading it and I wasnt sure whether he was picking up on it, but at the end there was a silence between us. Then, in a very cute way he announced, That was a nice story.
There was a lot of good messages in that book, whether intended or not, the customer continued. Maybe just good writing. The illustrations were perfect for the story. And the CD is worth the price alone.
Indeed, the $10.99 book includes a CD featuring banjo songs from such acts as Professor Banjo, Rising Appalachia, Squirrel Butter and Dejah LÃ©ger, Zach says. He deliberately passed over cutesy childrens songs and focused on including honest-to-goodness folk tunes like Black-Eyed Suzie, Down in the River I Go and Simple Gifts, which plays a central role in the story.
I wanted songs that were the real folk stuff, Zach says. Its really the right approach for the book.