Released by John Lennon in 1971, “Imagine” is a timeless—and 46 years later a hauntingly timely—song of peace and tolerance that has been performed by hundreds of musicians across the world. The lyrics to this iconic song will appear in picture-book format for the first time on September 21, the annual International Day of Peace, when Clarion publishes Imagine in partnership with Amnesty International. The book features a foreword by Yoko Ono Lennon and illustrations by Jean Jullien. In boldly colored mixed-media art, the French graphic illustrator follows the journey of a pigeon spreading a message of friendship and hope to birds on land and sea.
Clarion has announced a 250,000-copy first printing for Imagine, which will be published in 15 languages and 20 territories this year, the majority in September. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books in the U.K. is the originating publisher of Imagine, said Clarion senior editor Lynne Polvino, noting that Clarion has had a strong relationship with that publishing house. “In fact,” she recalled, “in May of 2016, I was celebrating the success of a Frances Lincoln/Clarion co-venture, The Bear and the Piano by David Litchfield, with Frances Lincoln’s associate publisher—then editorial director—Jenny Broom over lunch in New York when she mentioned Imagine.”
Broom told Polvino that earlier in 2016, her team had been discussing song lyrics as possible picture book texts. Frances Lincoln had earlier published two picture books in partnership with Amnesty International, We Are All Born Free: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Pictures and Dreams of Freedom. When Broom proposed a book version of “Imagine” to Nicky Parker, publisher at Amnesty U.K., she responded favorably to the idea, knowing that Yoko Ono Lennon was a longtime supporter of Amnesty, and that they could approach her with the idea.
Polvino in turn instantly warmed to the book project. “I knew immediately that Imagine would be perfect for the Clarion list,” she recalled. “Clarion has a long, proud history of publishing socially conscious books with themes of music, peace, and social justice. I initially saw nothing beyond a very early version of the jacket, but I began putting together acquisition plans. The book eventually went to a highly competitive auction with several U.S. houses bidding.”
The editor feels a personal connection to Imagine on multiple levels. “I grew up loving the music of John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and the Beatles—thanks to my activist, music-professor mother,” Polvino said. “And I’ve been a supporter of Amnesty International ever since I was in high school, when I first participated in letter-writing campaigns organized by the Amnesty International student group at the state university in my town. I’ve been a card-carrying member since 2003. Yoko Ono and I even attended the same college—Sarah Lawrence—though not at the same time!”
Partnering for a Purpose
Eric Ferrero, Amnesty International U.S.A.’s deputy executive director of public affairs, echoes Polvino’s enthusiasm for Imagine’s message and its impact on those being denied their human rights, especially since a portion of the proceeds from the book will be donated to Amnesty International.
“This special project reflects everything Amnesty International stands for and everything our seven million members and supporters around the world work for every day,” he said of Imagine. “In addition to helping generations of people understand human rights more deeply and personally, this book will directly help protect human rights around the world. Currently, we’re focused on addressing the unprecedented refugee crisis and defending people who face harassment, prison, or death because they advocate for human rights. Imagine will help more people understand why our work is so important—and will make it possible for us to help even more people.”
Noting that his organization and Clarion “are a great fit” for partnering on the book, given their respective missions to “raise awareness about important issues and to connect people with the world around them,” Ferrero described the publisher as a “valuable part of what we call our ‘Famnesty,’ ” of which Yoko Ono Lennon is a longtime member.
“Yoko has worked with us, literally for decades, to raise consciousness of human rights in so many ways, including granting permission to use John Lennon’s music and becoming personally involved in our various campaigns and fundraising efforts,” Ferrero explained. “And now, with this picture book that makes human rights so clear and simple and relevant to everyone, she is helping to pass the message of ‘Imagine’ on to a new generation.”
Amnesty International will spread word of Imagine on its website and will promote the book on its social media channels, which encompass more than three million Twitter followers and close to one million Facebook fans in the U.S. alone. And on August 14, an Imagine website, launched in nine countries and five languages. Visitors can use the site to submit their own messages of peace, read those from others around the world, and share messages on their own social media platforms.
Polvino pointed out the propitious timing of Imagine’s release—in this country and across the globe. “I acquired this book about a week before the 2016 presidential election, when a Trump presidency seemed unfathomable to me,” Polvino said. “But even pre-Trump, Imagine’s message was relevant, and the work of groups like Amnesty that fight against intolerance was important and needed. Now that those with hateful, divisive beliefs have been given a bigger, more visible platform, Imagine’s message is even more urgent.”
Like the song that inspired it, Polvino added, “Imagine invites readers to imagine a world at peace. It is hopeful, and we really need that kind of hope now, as we work toward a kinder, more just world. As Yoko Ono says in her foreword, ‘Every small, good thing that we do can help change the world for the better.’ ”
Imagine by John Lennon, illus. by Jean Jullien, foreword by Yoko Ono Lennon.
Clarion, $17.99 Sept. ISBN 978-1-328-80865-3