Man Gave Names to All the Animals: Bob Dylan Children’s Books, Considered
Sterling Children's Books is pleased as punch to announce the release of Man Gave Names to All the Animals, a children's-book rendering of Bob Dylan's song of the same name. Jim Arnosky, the artist behind the book whose previous titles include Babies in the Bayou and All About Frogs, took his inspiration from the "land of primeval beauty" contained in the lyric; "I thought this vision would make a dream of a book," he says. The book will appear this September.
While we enjoy the evident glee with which Sterling presents this volume, we're also concerned. Arnosky did well to choose a boring-to-the-point-of-innocuous song from Slow Train Coming, Dylan's first proper Christian record; but what if he'd chosen a more devious track, perhaps from Blonde on Blonde, or—perish the thought!—Self-Portrait? Is this the beginning of a larger trend? How soon before we get the graphic-novel version of "Ballad of a Thin Man"? Below, we've compiled a brief guide on which Dylan songs are suited to upcoming children's adaptations...and which are decidedly not.
Song: "Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again" (Blonde on Blonde, 1966)
Sample Lyric: "And he just smoked my eyelids / And punched my cigarette...."
Why It Wouldn't Work: Confusing, from both a narrative and geographic standpoint; plus, railroad men "drink[ing] up your blood like wine" could only be properly illustrated by Edward Gorey.
Song: "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" (Bringing It All Back Home, 1965)
Sample Lyric: "Shadows even the silver spoon /The handmade blade, the child's balloon / Eclipses both the sun and moon"
Why It Would Work: Kids will relate, because it's just like Goodnight Moon, only creepy as shit. Also, a useful lesson in passive-aggression.
Song: "It Ain't Me, Babe" (Another Side of Bob Dylan, 1964)
Sample lyric: "Go lightly from the ledge, babe / Go lightly on the ground"
Why It Wouldn't Work: Veiled reference to suicide; teaches kids bad grammar.
Song: "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" (Blonde on Blonde, 1966)
Sample Lyric: "The kings of Tyrus with their convict list / Are waiting in line for their geranium kiss"
Why It Would Work: Teaches fidelity and persistence, both of which are useful for any tyke hoping to stay awake through the longest children's book ever written.
Song: "Hurricane" (Desire, 1976)
Sample Lyric: "Number one contender for the middleweight crown/Had no idea what kinda shit was about to go down."
Why It Wouldn't Work: Besides the profanity and racial epithets? 1) The first half is really violent ("She sees the bartender in a pool of blood"; 2) The second half, all courtroom intrigue, is really boring ("To see him obviously framed/"Couldn't help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land....") To wit: When was the last time your 5-year-old made it through an episode of Law & Order?
Song: "Maggie's Farm" (Bringing It All Back Home, 1965)
Sample Lyric: "It's a shame the way she makes me scrub the floor/I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more"
Why It Would Work: Encourages independence, as long as you don't prize your kid's obedience. Kinda like Maurice Sendak's Pierre (A Cautionary Tale), only the obstinate protagonist doesn't capitulate to parents' whims after being eaten by a lion.
Song: "The Man In Me"
Sample Lyric: "The man in me will do nearly any task/And as for compensation, there's little he would ask."
Why It Would Work: The song owes its creepiness almost entirely to Dylan's lecherous reading. Presented straight, it's actually a cute little parable about helping out around the house. Take it from Bob, chores don't have to be that bad!
Song: "Mr. Tambourine Man" (Bringing It All Back Home, 1965)
Sample Lyric: "Take me on a trip upon your magic swirlin' ship/My senses have been stripped, my hands can't feel to grip"
Why It Could Go Either Way: Few American lyricists have spun better fantasies than Dylan, and "Tambourine" is one of his more innocuous ones. Plus, as the film Away We Go demonstrates, it totally works as a lullaby. On the other hand: Your kids are probably way too cool for this song.