Growing up in Florida, I learned to sing "Way Down Upon the Swanee River," a Stephen Foster composition.
As a piano student, I played "Camp-town Races" and "Oh,Susanna" in recitals, more songs from this famous composer.
Stephen Foster composed American Folk Songs that reveal the flavor of the times he lived in. Listening to his music is part of USA history class in our homeschool, because it genuinely expresses the style and culture of Early America.
Times have certainly changed and music has changed along with those times, but for those of us who enjoy remembering, Stephen Foster is a true American musician.
From the very beginning, Stephen loved music! When he was two years old, he "borrowed" his sister's guitar and plucked a melody out on the instrument. Soon, he was plucking piano keys with lovely results to his family's delight and enjoyment. Stephen's music was profoundly influenced by Negro Spirituals sung by the black slaves of America. His songs often adopt the style or melody of a specific spiritual. Because of this, I had always assumed that he was a "Southern Boy," but it turns out he spent most of his life in Pennsylvania!
This biography is easy enough to be read and enjoyed by young children, but interesting and full of enough information that older children would enjoy it too. My first thought: a great family read aloud book! Best of all, the Bible is mentioned, as well as the family's devotion to God!
The study guide, Stephen Foster and His Little Dog Tray Study Guide by Judy Wilcox, impressed me! This slim book and companion guide was jam-packed with great info and divided into four sections. Each section covered a section of the book with maps, timelines, tidbits of interest, reading comprehension questions, and a focus on character qualities evident in Stephen Foster's life.
The timeline gave me an idea! You could read the book aloud for a week with your homeschool crew, turning the book into a mini history unit study. There was enough information to study from the timeline, plus comprehension questions could easily be turned into writing assignments, and music to listen to from the CD.
It was awesome to see them focus on character traits evidenced in his life. What a neat way to challenge our children to grow in godliness! While I didn't feel he was sugarcoated, I did feel that Stephen Foster was presented in a positive light and as a positive role model.
I liked the comprehension questions too! They were easy questions and, best of all, the answers were included.
Now, let me tell you about the companion CD. Stephen Foster's music is combined with Edward MacDowell's music on this CD. (Edward MacDowell also has a biography and study guide in the series!) The music on the CD is not Foster's complete works, but only the selections from the biography. Reading the book aloud while stopping to listen to the selections on the CD would make a great way to learn!
- Edward MacDowell
- Franz Schubert
- Frederic Chopin
- George Frederic Handel
- Joseph Haydn
- Ludwig von Beethoven
- Wolfgang Mozart
- Robert Schumann
- Sebastian Bach
- Stephen Foster
- Johannes Brahms
More than this biography series, there are several other series available too!
- Civil War series (The Guns of Bull Run, The Guns of Shiloh, The Scouts of Stonewall)
- Shining Sword (book and study guide)
- Ancient China To Wall and Beyond
- Presidential Penmanship
- When I'm a Daddy
- When I'm a Mommy
Happy Reading! Happy Listening!
Merey (Meredith Ludwig Curtis)