4 out of 4 stars
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Never in my experience as a reviewer did I ever expect to be able to review something with so many aspects to it. Books are full of text and children's books have added illustrations to check out, but Walk Shepherdess, Walk by Barrett Cobb seems to put them all to shame with just how comprehensive it is. Barrett isn't satisfied with this being a mere picture book with lovely watercolor artwork that illustrates the lyrics to the folk song her mother used to sing to her, she includes why the song is important to her, her inspiration for adding flute to her version of the composition (which is free to listen to or download from her website), the musical notation, and even a short story she calls "A Lamb's Tale" that includes at least two deeper, hidden meanings from the 12-line song. Whew, if I was saying that out loud I'd be majorly catching my breath after listing all the things included in this 36-page book.
Although I'm always happy to refer to author's websites when they're listed in a book, I often don't mention them in a review. Walk Shepherdess, Walk is an exception, as the titular song is a big part of the book and is entirely free. In fact, the author links to the website from the Amazon description itself, so even those who haven't bought the book can easily get a feel for Barrett's musical skills. The song feels like a Church piece, beginning with piano and Barrett's operatic singing. Her flute dips in for a bit throughout as well, even using it to imitate a sheep's bell. The song is mellow, relaxing and rather beautiful, with lyrics that are very easy to follow along with and shouldn't be hard to memorize. In a time when kids often grow up listening to whatever their parents listen to (which often isn't too kid-friendly), this is especially lovely.
The song is also slow enough that it's easy to listen to while following along in the picture book portion. The images worried me a bit with how small they were when I held the Kindle vertically, but turning it horizontally makes them almost full-screen images. The watercolor artwork is lovely and beautifully illustrates the story being told. That story in question follows a girl with a shepherdess as they travel, looking for various sheep: a ram with ebony horns, a ewe with golden feet and a sheep with a crystal bell.
Finally, there's a short story that goes into more detail than the song. It gives the shepherdess and little girl names (Ann and Ida respectively), expands a bit on the events within, helps teach what the different sheep are (such as that a ewe is a female sheep and a ram is a male sheep) and explores the themes within. The song ends with "and if we never find them/I shan't care, shall you?", which to some folks may seem contradictory - what's the point of a whole song about finding sheep and then not caring whether you even find them? The answer is important - because even if they find no sheep at all, they've spent the day walking in beautiful weather and spending time together. I particularly liked when the author defined "wether" both in the lyrics and in this section. In this bit, she writes in parentheses, "Most grown-ups don't know this word, but now you do!" This little bit of friendly encouragement not only helps children not feel stupid for not knowing what it meant, it's inspiring - hey, even most adults don't know it! I bet even your parents didn't know what it meant until now! I sure didn't personally.
There are also two additional songs on the author's website, although they aren't directly related to the book. "Syrinx" is an instrumental piece with the flute, and while the song is easily open to interpretation, the word "syrinx" is defined as "the lower larynx or voice organ in birds". This led me to believe that it was inspired by a songbird, perhaps even one that visits the author frequently. When the weather is nicer we often have a bird (or several birds) near enough our bedroom that we can hear them on a daily basis, and after a few minutes of listening it's easy enough to sing along with them. Other parts of the piece are flighty, as if perhaps detailing the journey the songbirds may take from place to place. This makes the song a possible alternative while reading one of the stories, orto merely relax and see what the song makes children think of. The other song, "Dido's Lament", is defined by Wikipedia as "the aria When I am laid in earth from the opera Dido and Aeneas by Henry Purcell". This is a touching, heartfelt piece that's even more operatic, and I highly recommend looking up the lyrics before listening to it.
The only negative I found in the entire book was that I found three errors. Two of them are merely leaving out an apostrophe in a possessive noun, while the third is an unnecessary "a" in a sentence. Normally three errors in such a short book would force me to give this 3 stars, but I just can't bring myself to do it, not when there's so much extra here. I'd rate the book 3.5 stars if we did half stars, or 3.9 otherwise, but since we give or take full stars I'm giving Walk Shepherdess, Walk 4 out of 4 stars. It's something I can easily recommend to anyone who wants to share a nursery-rhyme-like song with their child(ren) since it makes the lessons so clear and even provides you with exactly how to sing it!
Walk Shepherdess, Walk
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