You’ve probably noticed Jack White looks a little different lately. As he made the rounds on late night shows playing the first songs of his new album Boarding House Reach, he’s ditched the vintage red Airline guitars and picked up an EVH Airline and Ernie Ball St. Vincent. But it’s not just this shift in gear that’s given him a different vibe. Could it be that he’s now a published author?
Jack’s is but one of many musicians to cross the artistic border from writing words for melodies to penning them for book pages. While many genres of writing have seen contributions from famous musicians, several have found their literary coming of age in an unexpected place: childrens’ books. And I’m talking little kids, like the ones that can play those tiny “Hello Kitty” Fender Stratocasters.
To save you the trip to the bookstore, here’s a must read list of kids’ book masterpieces written by some of your favorite heroes of modern music.
Jack White, We’re Going to Be Friends (Third Man Books, 2017)
With words pulled primarily from the song by the same name off the 2002 White Stripes album White Blood Cells, this new book tells the tale of two kids meeting in a school yard. Characteristically illustrated in red and white, the book is sure to put a spring in your step and liven up any bedtime routine. It’s also worth mentioning that the book is published by an arm of Jack’s own vinyl empire and label, Third Man Records, which has been a leading force in reviving record pressing in North America.
Bob Dylan, Forever Young (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2008)
Originally released in 1974 on the record Planet Waves, Dylan’s song has persisted through the decades and become one of the most covered and recognized tunes of his deep catalogue. Now, you can take it in in board book form. Given that Dylan was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” the book is a brilliant way of sharing his inspirational words with a new generation.
John Lennon, Imagine (Clarion Books, 2017)
Few lyrics could whisk you off to sleep in the best sort of way as Lennon’s iconic 1971 track, “Imagine.” Now, the words of this anthem for peace are set to images telling the tale of a pigeon traversing busy scenes of the modern world with an olive branch in beak. A timely read with timeless words.
Paul McCartney, Geoff Dunbar, and Philip Ardagh, High in the Clouds (Dutton Juvenile, 2005)
Of course, the fab four had more than one wordsmith. It only makes sense they’d have more than one author. McCartney’s book is a kids’ adventure story that, while not originating with song lyrics, features an imaginative cast of characters and vivid plot that certainly would have fit in the Sgt. Pepper era. Follow along with the (mis)adventures of an animal crew as their world of Woodland is bulldozed to make room for a metropolis. Maybe the villains in this tale should have listened to Lennon’s “Imagine.”
Ringo Starr, Octopus Garden (Aladdin, 2014)
With Starr’s book, the fab four of rockers is a trinity of authors. With words drawn from the song of the same name from the 1969 album Abbey Road, the book brings young ones down to the ocean floor to explore what it would be like to be an eight-legged undersea creature. So if you’re looking to wean your kids onto good music from an early age, with these last three books, they might just be Beatles fans before they can talk.
Madonna, Five Books for Children (Callaway Editions, 2005)
Madonna is arguably the most prolific author who daytimes as a musical icon. In addition to her controversial coffee table book back in the day and a few forays into chapter books for school age children, Madonna has written and released a series of five stories for young ones—that’s practically an EP! With themes and images loosely based on Jewish mysticism, the books feature imaginative tales and vivid pictures that always have a subtle but significant moral to the story. The first installment in the anthology, The English Roses (2003), debuted in the number one spot on the New York TimesBest Seller list.
Whether you find yourself listening to the classic tunes behind many of the books above or are encountering them in a new literary way this weekend, have a great #RiffCitySunday.