Books and music intersect in LyricPop, a new series of picture books from Akashic Books, which pairs the lyrics of popular songs with illustrations by various artists. The series’ eclectic mix of musical genres is exemplified by its four launch titles, released this month: Good Vibrations, written by Beach Boys Mike Love and Brian Wilson and illustrated by Paul Hoppe; Fleetwood Mac’s Don’t Stop, penned by Christine McVie, with art by Nusha Ashjaee; We’re Not Gonna Take It, written by Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider, illustrated by Margaret McCartney; and late reggae artist Peter Tosh’s African, illustrated by Rachel Moss.
For Akashic publisher Johnny Temple, who founded the independent, Brooklyn-based press in 1997, LyricPop represents two of his passions: music and books for children. “I’m a professional musician as well as a parent of two sons,” noted Temple, who plays bass guitar with the band Girls Against Boys, “and I know that parents love to turn their children on to music they love. The idea of giving parents and grandparents a way to connect kids with music early on through picture books is exciting to me. And when adults sing the lyrics as they read the books, it becomes a multimedia experience, introducing books and music at the same time.”
With several other musicians among Akashic’s small staff, selecting the songs for the LyricPop list and working on the books “has really been a lot of fun,” Temple said. A top priority for the series, he noted, is that “the lyrics, of course, must be family-friendly and we at Akashic need to be comfortable that the song’s message fits our values. And we are looking to include a wide range of musical genres—including rhythm and blues, rock, pop, punk, hip hop, and country—to create books that appeal to a diverse array of children and families.”
As examples of how two of LyricPop’s debut titles fit that publishing playlist, Temple first cites Not Gonna Take It by Snider, who was lead singer and songwriter for Twisted Sister. Art by McCartney, who is also a musician and the illustrator of Jodi Wheeler-Toppen’s This Is a Book to Read with a Worm, features a multicultural cast of strong-willed toddlers. “This is a rebellious song, but when turned into a children’s book, it becomes a story about drawing a line in the sand and standing up for what you believe in, which is an important message at any time, but quite resonant right now,” Temple said.
Also timely, the publisher added, is Hoppe’s graphic treatment of Good Vibrations, a song the Beach Boys originally released in 1966, which became the group’s third number-one Billboard hit, was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and is included in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s roster of “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.” Born in Poland, raised in Germany, and currently a resident of Brooklyn, Hoppe is the solo creator of picture books Hat and The Woods and illustrator of Metal Man by Aaron Reynolds. His interpretation of the song by Love and Wilson follows a friendly child and a dog making their way to the beach, radiating positivity and collecting companions along the way. “By the end, Paul has assembled a diverse crowd, making the book’s message one about building community,” Temple said. “He did a beautiful job of creating a large ensemble cast.”
More Tuneful Titles to Come
The publisher anticipates releasing 10 new LyricPop books annually, with the second quartet of titles pubbing in October. They are: Move the Crowd by Eric Barrier and William Griffin, illustrated by Kirk Parrish; Otis Redding’s Respect, famously sung by Aretha Franklin, with art by Rachel Moss; These Boots Are Made for Walkin’, written by Lee Hazlewood (and popularized by Nancy Sinatra), also illustrated by Moss; and Charlotte Caffey’s We Got the Beat, featuring art by Kaitlyn Shea O’Connor.
The list expands again in March 2021, when LyricPop adds (Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay by Redding and Steve Cropper, illus. by O’Connor; and Lori McKenna’s Humble and Kind, a song often performed by Tim McGraw, with pictures by Katherine Blackmore.
Launching LyricPop is personally rewarding for Temple, who draws on a boyhood memory to illuminate his admiration for one of the songwriters headlining the debut list. “I am a longtime lover of reggae music,” he said, “and I had a chance to meet Peter Tosh when I was a teenager, after seeing him perform in my hometown of Washington, D.C. That was truly an honor, and now it is such an honor to work with his African to create a picture book celebrating children of African descent. We want to treat this song—and every song we publish—with the deep respect they deserve.”
African by Peter Tosh, illustrated by Rachel Moss. Akashic/LyricPop, $16.95 June ISBN 978-1-61775-799-0
Don’t Stop by Christine McVie, illus. by Nusha Ashjaee. Akashic/LyricPop, $16.95 June ISBN 978-1-61775-805-8
Good Vibrations by Mike Love and Brian Wilson, illus. by Paul Hoppe. Akashic/LyricPop, $16.95 June ISBN 978-1-61775-787-7
We’re Not Gonna Take It by Dee Snider, illus. by Margaret McCartney. Akashic/LyricPop, $16.95 June ISBN 978-1-61775-788-4