Some of the programs I do with children are based on my books. Others are based on subjects that interest me, but that I have not yet turned into books. The presentation on hoboes includes a reading of my not-yet-published picture book manuscript, "A Hobo's Lullabye."
I discuss how I get ideas and the things I must do to turn them into books. I explain the roles that illustrators, editors, publishers and printers play in the process of turning manuscripts into books. This presentation also includes a discussion of the craft of writing verse and a hands-on exercise in creating fictional characters. I use songs I've written to help children understand and appreciate the elements of rhyme and meter. Questions and answers are an important part of this program which can be adjusted to fit the interests of any grade level.
Based on my book New England Whaler, this program for upper elementary grades explores the history of the American whaling industry during the days of sail. Sea chanteys, whaling songs and stories about adventures at sea are a part of the presentation.
The legendary folk hero appears "in person." I appear as a ragged frontiersman with a saucepan on my head, playing an authentic homemade banjo which I tell the children I obtained from a runaway slave. As Johnny, I tell stories about my life and my adventures on the frontier, and sing some of the songs that were popular in Johnny's time. I also respond to questions without ever getting out of character. Best with grades K-5.
For the last three autumns, Johnny has been a big hit at an Iowa apple orchard. "I start getting calls in August, before we open, with the question, 'When will Johnny Appleseed be there?'" says Claudia Batesole, proprietor.
A program for 6th, 7th and 8th grades, using songs and stories to help children understand the causes and passions that divided our nation. It covers slavery, the underground railroad and secession as well as the war itself, with songs that were probably known by my Yankee ancestors in Michigan and my Rebel ancestors in Virginia.
The folklore, songs and history of the colorful men (and sometimes women) who rode freight trains from job to job, seldom staying long in one place as they built railroads, harvested fruit and wheat, and lived a precarious existence on the margins of society from the 1860s to the 1940s. A frequently neglected corner of American history, this program is geared to upper elementary grades and is based on many years of research plus personal experiences and first hand knowledge of hoboes and tramps.
When children are learning about Paul Bunyan and other heroes of American tall tales, they are delighted to discover that tall tales exist in America's folksongs, too. I start off with one my favorite tall tales, "The Hickory Tootpick" but the emphasis is on songs like "I Was Born About Ten Thousand Years Ago," "The Frozen Logger" and "The Big Rock Candy Mountain," and other fanciful American ballads whose humor is based on wild exaggeration. Return to Bob's home page.