Some are just for Sunday School, and you clap when you sing
them. Others make you dance right in your seat. And some
songs you sing in church are very old and have a quiet,
hidden meaning. In How Sweet the Sound by Carole
Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Frank Morrison,
you’ll learn about one song that feels a lot like a prayer.
John Newton was not a very nice man.
He was a brawling sailor, and that was why he was so mean:
he had to be tough, and that meant fighting and
swearing and hurting people. He’d been doing it for years
and he didn’t have plans to stop. Toughness was in his
But then, one night, there was a storm and John was at the
wheel of the ship as she tossed back and forth on the waves.
The rest of the crew was frightened and, truthfully, so was
John. He began to think about all the things he’d done in
his life. He remembered how much he loved his mother, and he
recalled when she died.
Was that when John became a not-so-nice guy? Was that when
he started “picking fights” and arguing?
No, John was still nice then. He met Mary, the woman he
loved, and they had plans for the future until the Navy
nabbed John and forced him to enlist.
Ah, there’s where John became a cruel bully. It
happened aboard a ship, where he worked hauling humans over
the ocean to bring them to slavery. Oh, John suddenly
understood – and he began to pray.
He prayed when he bailed water. He prayed as he “plugs
leaks.” He talked to God while he was at the helm of the
ship. He prayed and prayed until the sun peeked over the
horizon on wet but peaceful sails. He prayed because the
crew still wasn’t out of danger and he kept praying until
the ship reached land.
God spared John’s life and, in gratitude, John became a
preacher and spoke out against slave ships. Then he wrote a
song that people of many faiths have leaned on in times of
You’ve sung the words countless times. You’ve heard the song
in many places. But did you know the true story of the
Most people haven’t, but in How Sweet the Sound
author Carole Boston Weatherford tells it with couplets more
powerful than a storm at sea; indeed, this book is little
more than a poem written in descriptive style, but sparsely,
which lends more weight to each careful word. The tale
itself – that of John Newton – is all true, and that’s
explained in Weatherford’s Author’s Note near the back
cover. Be sure you read that, too. It makes an extraordinary
story even more… amazing.
With beautiful artwork by Frank Morrison, this book is great
for children ages four to eight and may be a Sunday School
winner for kids and adults. How Sweet the Sound could
make your soul sing.