THE LITTLEST BIRDS SING THE PRETTIEST SONGS—BY JENNIE SMITH, INTRODUCTION BY MICHAEL HURLEY—Chronicle Books. Hardback, 128 pages, full-color illustrations. $24.95. (Chronicle Books, 680 Second St., San Francisco, CA 94107,

This little hardback is part art book, part songbook. It would seem equally at home on a coffee table or in a music room. Author Jennie Smith has illustrated 13 traditional and modern folk songs with beautiful, whimsical drawings, and also included the words and chords, and sometimes the music, for the tunes. Upon initial examination it looks like a kid’s picture book, but closer scrutiny reveals detailed drawings which will be better appreciated by adults with an interest in the synthesis between folk art, music, and the natural world.

Smith writes that “my inherent love of nature…has served as the source of inspiration for my drawings.” She often listens to folk music while drawing and one day she had the idea to illustrate “When The Green Grass Grows All Around.” The book grew from that seed as she discovered that the stories in many songs, “naturally lent themselves to visual interpretations.”

Sometimes she literally draws what the words of the song say, such as in the first tune when the protagonist “set down on a bed of hemlocks and primroses.” But more often she presents a collection of fanciful images suggested by the feelings or metaphors in the lyrics. Animals and plants figure prominently, but one image that really sticks with me includes several disembodied eyes and the line “such beauty I’d never seen.”

This lovely book would make a great gift and a worthy addition to any music library.CAH

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