Banjo Granny

Banjo Granny byHere’s a little book that may be of interest to bluegrass loving parents and grandparents. It’s a children’s story by Sarah Martin Busse and Jacqueline Briggs Martin called Banjo Granny which chronicles how banjo playing and “granny magic” allowed a grandmother to be with her beloved grandson.

Martin and Busse are a mother/daughter team whose personal discoveries of bluegrass music led to the writing of this book, originally published in 2006. Sarah explains how it all began…

“My husband and I had just moved out to California when our first child, our son Owen, was born in June 2001. So we had to learn how to be a family long-distance, since my parents were still in Iowa.

One day, when Owen was a few months old, I heard a radio interview with Dolly Parton about the release of her album, Little Sparrow. I was so taken with what I heard that I ordered the CD right away. I didn’t know very much about Parton’s music before that, but I love acoustic music in general and what I heard just immediately riveted me. The CD came, but being a mother with a small baby, I didn’t have time to listen to it right away.

Then Owen had a cranky day, and in desperation, I put on the new music–hoping to soothe myself as much as him. With the first opening notes, he looked up, stopped crying, and then as the beat kicked in, he smiled a huge smile–the first time he had really responded to music.!!

So, of course, I called my mother right away and told her, ‘Owen loves bluegrass music!’ And that began my own real interest in bluegrass as well.”

…at which point, Jackie picks up the narrative:

“When Sarah told me how Owen listened and “danced” to the music, I longed -as grandmothers do – to see him for myself. But I couldn’t go from where I live in Iowa to California at the time. I dreamed of donning thousand mile shoes and walking to California. In my imagination, I would of course play banjo – and the music and ‘grannymagic’ would get me to California.”

You can get a taste of the book’s style – and how Jackie and Sarah’s personal story informed its writing – in this excerpt from the book:

When Owen’s granny heard
he was a baby who went siggly, jiggly,
all-around giggly,
and tip over tumble
for bluegrass music,
she packed her banjo in its trusty old case
with the taped-up handle.
She put on her thousand-mile shoes.
And she started out
to cross one river,
one mountain,
and a desert.The river was fast. The river was deep.
Owen’s granny could not cross.
Then she thought of Owen,
and her heart was set to see him.
Owen’s granny took her banjo
from the trusty old case
with the taped-up handle.

“Listen River,” she said,
“and I’ll play you the song
of my grandbaby,
who goes wiggly, jiggly,
all-around giggly,
and tip over tumble
for bluegrass music.”
The river slowed and listened.

And when the song was done
Granny pulled an oar out of the banjo case
and rowed across the quiet creek.

Banjo Granny is illustrated by Barry Root and published by Houghton Mifflin. It is available wherever children’s books are sold, or directly from the publisher.

You can see all of Jackie’s children’s books on her web site.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.