Jack White is best known as the lead singer and guitarist for the band The White Stripes. He has also performed with The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather, and on numerous solo projects. In 2016, he contributed his distinctive vocals to a track on Beyoncé’s Lemonade album. Now, the accomplished musician has turned to a quieter venture—adapting one of his early songs into a picture book. White recorded “We’re Going to Be Friends,” a song about children striking up a tender friendship at school, for The White Stripes’ 2002 album White Blood Cells. For the illustrations, White paired with animator and fellow musician Elinor Blake (she performs under the name April March). White, who counts The Story of Ferdinand as one of his childhood favorites, discussed turning the song into an illustrated book.
When you first wrote the song “We’re Going to Be Friends,” did you ever envision adapting it into a picture book?
No, I didn’t imagine that would be a reality at all. I wrote the song on an acoustic guitar in a girlfriend’s apartment while she was at work. I actually thought that people might not understand the song for what it was supposed to be. The world I worked in at the time was very cynical so I thought they would take it as ironic. The lyrics being treated as poetry and an actual story is a wonderful full circle for a songwriter.
Can you talk about working with Elinor Blake and what you feel her illustrations bring to the picture book?
Elinor sent me a drawing about 17 years ago that I framed and still have hanging on my wall. I always loved how multi-talented she is, and with such a strong independence. I’ve never met her—sometimes it’s more fulfilling to not meet the artists you admire. I wanted her to do whatever she felt she should with the illustrations. We only discussed the idea of keeping the characters not any particular race, and maybe even gender. We wanted any child to feel, “That’s like me!”
So the two friends in the song/story aren’t drawn from anyone in particular you knew in the past?
I’ve used the name “Suzy Lee” as a character in many songs even if I didn’t say it out loud. I don’t know what she looks like or who she is. The drawing of her is wonderful, but even that doesn’t box in her character for me. I think she might be a shape-shifter.
What has been your experience so far sharing the book with kids?
I’ve been lucky enough now to have read this book to large groups of children and my own kids, and it makes me want to cry; it feels so cathartic. I hope that the sentiments in the song about the fantasy of friendship connect with people.
We’re Going to Be Friends by Jack White, illus. by Elinor Blake. Third Man, $16.95 Nov. 21 ISBN 978-0-9964016-9-2