With the odd exception, it’s safe to say that when it comes to celebrity picture books most of us out here in libraryland are less than impressed. The announcement that the latest reality star or pop singer has a picture book coming out allows us to check out the illustrator’s talent far more often than the author’s. Yet every season publishers churn out, one after another. I’m not looking at any statistics at the moment, but my general impression is that they are perhaps less ubiquitous here in late 2012 than they were even four or five years ago. I’m not sure how to account for that. Perhaps they are pulling in less money than they used to?
One offspring of the celebrity picture book genre, if genre it is, is the adaptation of a famous song into a picture book format. These types of books have been gaining in popularity, though they’re certainly not new. They’ve always been an easy way to make a book without disgusting the gatekeepers too much. In a way, this method of authorship also yields better books than you might get if the author sat down and tried to write one. This has something to do with the fact that when a songwriter is creating a work for adults they fail to indulge in that pandering that can ruin a perfectly good picture book.
There are several different types of songs-turned-picture books. First you have the songs that were written with a child audience in mind. These slip into picture book form with great ease.
“New Baby Train” by Woody Guthrie
“Puff the Magic Dragon” by Peter Yarrow
“It’s Raining, It’s Pouring” by Peter, Paul and Mary
Then you have the songs from musicals that work in a picture book context without much knowledge of the shows they came from:
“What’s New at the Zoo” from Do Re Mi
“Never Never Land” from Peter Pan
Even more interesting to me, though are the songs that were written for adults and never intended for a child marketplace.
“Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan
“Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley
“One Love” by Bob Marley
“At the Zoo” by Simon & Garfunkle
There are a multitude of other examples of these, but you get the picture.
It got me to thinking too. I mean, what’s to stop contemporary artists from repackaging their own top of the pop hits in a couple decades or so into picture book wonders? By that point app and ebook technology will have improved significantly, allowing readers to see the books alongside the original songs. The only question then is what songs today will be the picture books of tomorrow. Some possibilities:
“We’re Going to Be Friends” by The White Stripes
Yeah. So this song was pretty much the impetus behind this entire post. And why not? It’s the world’s most perfect little ditty and it would adapt perfectly.
“The Christians and the Pagans” by Dar Williams
I was going to suggest her “The Babysitter’s Here” but you’d probably have to cut too much out. This would be a good old-fashioned hippy picture book, if that ever comes back into style. For the record, Ms. Williams actually wrote two full middle grade novels for kids in the past, so she doesn’t need to slum it this way if she wants to publish. She’s already far more legitimate an author than most.
Empire State of Mind (Part II) by Alicia Keys
Remember how they made that Simon & Garfunkle song about the zoo into a picture book? Well, there was some judicious editing at work there (example: “And the zookeeper is very fond of rum” shows the man patting a raccoon on the head with the nametag of “Rum”). The same would have to be done with this one but aside from the occasional “selling rock” there isn’t much of anything that’s objectionable for the 4-8 crowd.
Those are just off the top of my head. Other suggestions are more than welcome.