In telling the tale of the song, McCrumb helps us learn the history of a special region of Appalachia -- the beautiful, remote, hilly part that straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee.
We learn, in "their own voices", of the boy who was stolen from his home island in Scotland and so brought the song to the New World, of his hard life during the Revolutionary War, and of his journey to Appalachia. The song then leads us into the mind of a Confederate soldier in the Civil War, which in this part of the country, literally pitched neighbor against neighbor, few of whom cared all that much for the Northern OR Southern cause. Because the song continuously eludes capture by the songcatchers, we then follow its course through family of a young girl in the early twentieth century and then into the mind of another soldier in World War II and then into the later twentieth century.
In each historical period, the song's lyric "When she/he came home, she was a-change-ed, oh" proves true both for those who go to war and for those to whom the war comes home.
Highly recommended for advanced young readers.
Note: The violence, suffering, and death caused by wars are described in short, sharp, riveting, but horrifying bursts that punctuate many of the stories told by the song's custodians.