This companion volume to the critically acclaimed Pass It On: African-American Poetry for Children stands on its own as a fascinating, beautifully crafted history of African Americans in song. The Hudsons, who are themselves authors of many beloved books for children, have selected songs that resonate with meaning, drawing them from a wide range of sources. Songs from Africa, spirituals, chants, work songs, and play songs take their place next to protest songs, gospel, jazz, blues, soul, and popular music; songs like "Follow the Drinking Gourd," "This Little Light of Mine," "Go Down, Moses," "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," and "Get on Board, Little Children" stand alongside "We Shall Not Be Moved," Billy Strayhorn’s "Take the "A" Train," and James Brown’s "Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud."
While music for all the songs can be found at the back of the book, the lyrics for each is presented poem-style with an accompanying illustration, in soft-colored oil wash on board, by accomplished artist Floyd Cooper. The pictures themselves provide a visual history of the African-American experience, encompassing both the historical and the personal. Next to the words of "Kum Ba Ya," a young child whirls in the joy of freedom, as yet unaware of the slave ship anchored offshore. Workers toil in a cotton field for "Over My Head," while a school play reenacts the Montgomery bus boycott to the words of Stevie Wonder’s "Happy Birthday."
In addition to the music, the editors of this notable collection have provided background notes, to the extent possible, on each of the selections. A recommended reading and listening list points interested children, parents, and teachers to additional resources. With its many layers of meaning and possibilities for extension, How Sweet the Sound is a must for every classroom and school library.