Mother and daughter bring children’s song to life after 70 years
By Torri Singer
LEONARDO – Seventy years after she first wrote the song, “Woodland Party,” May Becker and her daughter Wendy Burke have created a children’s book based on the ditty, complete with furry characters and their antics in the woods.
As a teen in the 1930s, Becker was an aspiring vocalist when she wrote the song about a boy and his dog. Her father disapproved of the career choice and while her passion remained, her openness about her dream did not.
Many years later, when Becker’s daughter, a recently retired music teacher at Port Monmouth Road School in Keansburg, showed her mom a song she had put together for class, May surprised her with a song of her own.
“I had never heard the song,” Burke said. “It was in her head for 70 years and she sang it to me two years ago!”
Though Becker, now in her 90s, often quietly dreamed of her words reaching more children, she could not have anticipated the widespread attention that her simple song would receive seven decades later.
“I’m very amused and curious to where it will lead us to,” Becker said.
Two years ago the mother-daughter duo decided to find an illustrator and transform the lyrics into a children’s book. It is now available for purchase at a number of local shops and establishments, including Bahrs restaurant in Highlands; Frame to Please, Fragile Earth toy store and Jack’s Music, all in Red Bank; and Kidegories in Shrewsbury. A few campgrounds on the East Coast also carry the book, including Blueberry Hill Camp in Port Republic in Atlantic County and the Kiptopeke State Park in Cape Charles, Va.
“I never dreamed I would retire and then be doing this,” Burke said.
In addition to the images and pages that now help to illustrate the song, this summer the Count Basie Theatre Performing Arts Academy is bringing new energy to the story through performance. This past week children ages 4 through 8 took part in classes called From the Page to the Stage and Kids Production Week.
Now mother and daughter are visiting local libraries, schools and senior centers to read, sing and act out Becker’s stories.
“I would like to compare it to the unfinished symphony,” Becker said. “It’s been ‘unfinished’ all these years, and now it’s alive.”
Additional information about the book can be found at their website, www.wood landparty.com.