For illustrator Paul Rogers, the spirit of collaboration was the key to his work with jazz musician Wynton Marsalis on the acclaimed Jazz A-B-Z: An A to Z Collection of Jazz Portraits, which Candlewick published in 2005. “I wanted each portrait to reflect the sound of each artist’s music,” he said. “But I also wanted to use words to create a dialogue with the portraits, and Wynton’s text did just that.”

So it initially seems surprising that Rogers’ new project is illustrating the words of a notoriously uncompromising, self-contained and often inscrutable artist, Bob Dylan. Forever Young (Atheneum/Seo, Sept.) is Rogers’s interpretation of what has become one of Dylan’s most famous songs—and one especially loved by his fans—since it first appeared on the Planet Waves album in 1974. Rogers says one of the reasons he was drawn to the song is the directness of Dylan’s lyrics. “You really feel that he wants to connect to his listeners,” Rogers says. And in trying to express that connection, Rogers found sympathetic editors who made his new book “as satisfying a collaboration” as he experienced with Jazz A-B-Z.

“At Simon and Schuster, Ginee Seo and Ann Bobco, the art director, had the project and wondered if I might be interested,” says Rogers. “I really love the song, especially the simple acoustic version released on Dylan’s first Bootleg Series CD, and I wanted to keep the illustrations simple and direct and not try to illustrate the lyric literally. I mean, it’s a beautiful song, and there have been some great interpretations of it—Joan Baez does a wonderful version. So I wanted to make it good.”

Paul Rogers.

At first, Rogers envisioned a book of individual drawings with no narrative. “But Ginee and Ann came up with the idea of using a kid growing up, with music as a theme, and that began to connect some of my ideas for the illustrations as well as allowing me to expand on other, newer ideas,” he says. “Again, like my work with Wynton, it was a collaboration. We would have meetings to talk about what was working and what wasn’t working, which ended up being a great experience. I wish every book project I work on could be as easy as this one.”

In the book, Rogers shows a boy in a baseball cap listening to a folksinger playing guitar in front of the legendary Gerde’s Folk City—a mecca in NYC during the early 1960s. The singer gives his guitar to the boy, as if passing a torch to a younger generation. As the boy practices to Woody Guthrie records and performs free in the park, he also becomes involved in music-related activities such as a “Stop The War” rally in Washington D.C. The book ends with the now-grown young man passing his guitar on to a girl and, in effect, keeping the folk music ideals “forever young.”

Although Dylan’s influence was far-reaching, the boy’s tale is obviously set in New York City, “As a fan of Dylan,” Rogers says, “I always thought his early years in NYC were part of his most glamorous times, and I was influenced by what he wrote about those times in Chronicles, his memoir,” says Rogers. “As I was working, I wanted the style I was working in to evoke that time in Dylan’s life, but I also wanted each spread to look like a stage set, with scratchy lines and flat colors, against which all sorts of images could be set.”

Scattered throughout his “sets” are numerous references to other Dylan songs, from the “big brass bed” of “Lay Lady Lay” seen in a window on MacDougal Street, to a sign behind a bus stop reading “The circus is in town,” a line from “Desolation Row.” “My interest was also to see how much Dylan I could work into the text without being obnoxious,” says Rogers. “I definitely wanted to keep the story simpler for younger and general readers, but I also wanted to attract and interest Dylan fans, too—perhaps the parents who would be reading the book to their children. I realized that I could present a crowd that would work as a crowd and also as a group of interesting people from the era, like the “Stop The War” march that features Martin Luther King Jr. as well as Hank Williams and John Lennon—all of whom influenced Dylan.”

The various Dylan references are listed in an Illustrator’s Notes section in the back, although Rogers writes in an introduction to the notes that “it doesn’t include everything—that would spoil the fun of discovering them for yourself.” Rogers says it was Seo’s idea to do the “liner” notes, and he thinks it’s “a great way for kids and parents to explore more about Dylan and the Sixties and all the great people of that time, but also to connect it to the folk tradition that still continues now, in this day. It’s a chance, I hope, for parents and kids to ‘collaborate’ themselves using the book as a starting point.”

Rogers expects that his future projects will continue to be infused with the spirit of collaboration. “I’m currently working with Wynton on some short poems he has about songs,” he says. “There’s not much more to say than that right now, but it will definitely be a link to Jazz A-B-Z and Forever Young.”

And how did Dylan respond to Rogers’s take on his song? Once again, it was an easy collaboration. “I wanted to make sure that I didn’t screw it up—I wanted to do something that Bob would like,” says Rogers. “Everything had to be approved by Dylan and his office, and everything was approved. There was no chatting with him, but he and his people were easy to deal with. We would send them the drawings and they always sent it back approved.”

Rogers hopes that his book, like the guitar that is passed from the old to the young, will help parents and children connect to the ideals that Dylan’s song expresses. “The guitar is a way for the boy to connect with people,” he says, “and it also allows him to connect to the bigger issues of the day affecting those people. I think that it is a timeless tale of discovery and growth that happens to kids today as much as it did in the 1960s.”

Forever Young by Bob Dylan, illus. by Paul Rogers. Atheneum/Ginee Seo, $17.99 ISBN 978-1-416-95808-6