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I Wonder as I Wander by Gwenyth Swain

I Wonder as I Wander

by Gwenyth Swain

Other authors: Ronald Himler (Illustrator)

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Fictional in the rendition of what might have happened in the development of this haunting folk song, heard frequently during Christmas time, the author also wove actual events as a backdrop in telling the tale.

In truth, in Appalachian North Carolina, while attending a revival event of traveling evangelists who basically were rounded up by police and forced to leave town, folklorist John Jacob Niles was in awe as he witnessed a young scraggly, scruffy, dirty and raggedy girl stand up and sing one line of a beautifully haunting song.

Fascinated, Niles asked Annie Morgan to continue to sing over and over again, each time giving her .25.

Niles then expanded upon the song and it remains a beloved Christmas carol.


The author weaves a tale of Annie Morgan who lost her mother and dirt poor, she travels with her father who preaches along the back roads of rural Appalacia.

Giving away most of what he receives for his efforts, Annie frets about how they can pay for gas and food. She wonders why her mother died in the spring when everything is bursting with life.

Highly recommended. ( )
1 vote Whisper1 | Jul 6, 2013 |
Collected by noted folklorist and singer John Jacob Niles in 1933, the Appalachian Christmas carol I Wonder As I Wander was originally performed by a young girl named Annie Morgan, about whom very little is known. This lovely picture-book from author Gwenyth Swain and illustrator Ronald Himler presents a fictional account of Annie's life, imagining her as the daughter of a wandering preacher, driven onto the road by grief over the recent death of his wife (and Annie's mother). Finding themselves in Murphy, North Carolina one day, the father-daughter duo are involved in some preaching on the courthouse steps, until the sheriff arrives to move them along. It is then that Annie, who has silently imbibed many of her father's ideas about Jesus, and who has some of her musical mother's talents, steps forward with her beautiful song:

"I wonder as I wander, out under the sky,
How Jesus, the Savior, did come for to die.
For poor on'ry people like you and like I -
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.
If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing,
A star in the sky, or a bird on the wing,
Or all of God's angels in heav'n for to sing,
He surely could have it, 'cause he was the King."

A poignant picture-book that touches upon issues of family and loss, of faith and calling, and of tough times - the Great Depression is felt throughout the story, in the poverty of the communities through which Annie and her father travel - I Wonder As I Wander is a beautiful exploration of the meaning of this (now) well-known Christmas song. Teasing out some of the ideas in the song lyrics, and incorporating them into her story - Annie and her father do indeed wander, traveling amongst the ordinary people of Appalachia; and Annie wonders about Jesus, and why he made the sacrifice he did, when he could have had anything he wanted - Gwenyth Swain presents a powerful story through her text. Ronald Himler, whose evocative watercolor artwork can also be seen in such picture-books as The Wall and Fly Away Home, beautifully captures the emotional pitch of Swain's story in his illustrations. The sadness of Annie and her father, after the death of mother and wife; the huddled want of so many of the impoverished people they meet along their journey; the snowy cold of the courthouse steps upon which Annie's father preached, and next to which Annie sang - these can all be felt through the images, in this lovely book!

Recommended to young readers looking for stories set during the Great Depression, or in Appalachia, as well as to those interested in the song I Wonder As I Wander. ( )
  AbigailAdams26 | Apr 11, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Gwenyth Swainprimary authorall editionscalculated
Himler, RonaldIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Annie Morgan wonders about a lot of things. She wonders why her mother had to die. She wonders how she and her wandering preacher father will pay for gas and food when theybre just as poor as everybody else. Finally she finds a way to express all her wonderings in a haunting song sung to a small crowd on the courthouse steps.
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In this fictional account of the folk song's origin, a girl writes a song that expresses her feelings about Jesus while dealing with the loss of her mother and life on the roads of Appalachia after her father becomes an itinerant preacher.

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