Zina Jayne

Zina Jayne

It came to my attention recently that there were shocking gaps in my children’s upbringing.

This surfaced when I referenced John Henry to our youngest child, and she did not know who that was. When I began loudly singing, “A man ain’t nothin’ but a man ...” right there on the street, she was even further confused, as perhaps were passersby.

I explained John Henry the person, and “John Henry” the song, and later texted her three versions to listen to. (A fun fact: My second-favorite version of this song is by a band called Gangstagrass, which is an enthusiastic fusion of bluegrass and hip hop — the joy I get from the combination of twang, banjo, rap, and history-lesson-spoken-word is gleeful and profound.)

Right about now you may be thinking, “Isn’t this the Elsie Quirk Library column? What has any of this to do with the library?” Well, it has all kinds of things to do with the library.

First of all, if you, or your children, also have somehow missed the story and song of John Henry, get yourself to the Elsie Quirk Library. Check out the audio John Henry, with music by B.B. King. Or the book, “Hear My Sad Story: The True Tales That Inspired Stagolee, John Henry, and Other Traditional American Folksongs.” Another is the lavishly Illustrated picture book, titled, you guessed it, “John Henry.”


Are you reading this while the library is closed, and want to know more about John Henry right now? No problem. With your Sarasota County library card you can access e-books using cloudLibrary or Hoopla, or use our databases of scholarly and popular articles to learn more about the Steel Drivin’ Man and why he died with a hammer in his hand.

The discussion of John Henry led my daughter and I to talking about traditional folk music in general, and inevitably “Goodnight Irene” came up. Our children do know that song because I sang it to them many, many nights … but my version was a far cry from the traditional song.

This led to a confession that “Goodnight Irene” is not about how all the different animals gently go to sleep — which is my invented version — but is actually a rather morose ballad. There are many varied and beautiful versions of this song, from the classic Leadbelly rendition to Willie Nelson to Brian Wilson to Keith Richards to Little Richard.

But the real point I’m working toward is that the mistakes I made as a parent are all mine, but credit for the successes has to be shared with public libraries, which helped us raise our children in so many positive ways.

Your local library provides books on all manner of parenting conundrums, as well as books to help your child learn, programs to support children and parents, an accepting environment for children and parents to find community, and librarians to help you and your children find the information they need, desire and deserve.

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