Hive Five: Musicians Turned Children's Authors

[caption id="attachment_8050" align="alignnone" width="630" caption="Colin Meloy performs with the Decemberists in Manchester, England, March 2011. Photo: Ray Kilpatrick/Redferns"][/caption]

Next month, the Decemberists' frontman Colin Meloy introduces the world to Prue McKeel, a young girl who must journey into the Impassable Forest -- “a secret world in the midst of violent upheaval,” according to a press release -- to rescue her brother, who’s been kidnapped by a murder of crows. No, Meloy’s band hasn’t gone back to making prog-folk concept albums. He and his wife, illustrator Carson Ellis, have collaborated on a children’s book, Wildwood Chronicles, of which the first four chapters of which are available now for download.

With Wildwood, Meloy follows in a proud tradition of musicians-turned-children’s authors, and in honor of his literary debut, Hive went to the library and plucked from the stacks five of the stranger stories penned by pop stars.

1. Man Gave Names to All the Animals by Bob Dylan

In 1978, Dylan found Jesus and, for a three-album stretch, devoted himself to writing Christian songs, one of which inspired this book. Less preachy than some of Dylan’s holy-roller tunes, this Slow Train Coming track offers a whimsical look at how Earth’s creatures got their names. “He saw an animal up on a hill/ chewing up so much grass until she was filled/ he saw milk coming out but he didn’t know how,” go the first three lines of one verse, and in the book -- illustrated by Jim Arnosky -- kids must use those clues to guess what comes next: “Ah, I think I’ll call it a cow.” Think of it as the Book of Genesis meets “Ballad of a Thin Man.”

2. The English Roses by Madonna

Madonna lives in London and speaks with a British accent, so why wouldn’t she set her children’s series, about five fashionista BFFs, in England? This introductory book features a series of questionnaires filled out by the main characters, and in one, the blonde Binah reveals her most embarrassing moment. Running late for school one day, she accidentally smeared on a “tinted balm” and showed up for class with bright pink lips. It sounds like a plausible story from Madonna’s own youth, although in her case, the bold look might have been intentional.

3. The Teddy Bears Picnic by Jerry Garcia

If he’d wanted to, Garcia probably could have written one hell of a trippy kid’s book, but here, there are no polka-dotted unicorns or, like, totally evil dragons with Richard Nixon heads that have descended from the sky on flaming surfboards to harsh everyone’s mellow. Instead, the Grateful Dead guitarist teamed with fellow musician David Grisman and illustrator Bruce Whatley to create a new version of this titular children’s song. According to one unimpressed reviewer, “The bears do fun things on this picnic, but they don’t appear to be having a good time.” In other words, it’s a ‘60s parable.

4. The Magically Mysterious Adventures of Noelle the Bulldog by Gloria Estefan

Surrounded by other, more glamorous animals, Noelle, a stumpy brown bulldog with self-esteem issues, wonders what she could possibly have to offer as a pet. As it turns out, her size and shape make her perfect for retrieving the Dalmatian’s ball from under a car and saving a fish that’s somehow become stranded. While Estefan teaches kids some valuable lessons -- be yourself and embrace the things that make you unique -- Publisher’s Weekly had problems with the book’s “clunky rhymes” and “garish digital artwork.” Then again, some people said the same thing about Miami Sound Machine, and they sold millions of records.

5. When I Grow Up by “Weird Al" Yankovic

Weird Al’s pop parodies have always been pretty kid-friendly, but here he aims specifically for young audiences, telling the tale of Billy, an eight-year-old with a long list of outlandish careers he might like to explore. “Big sumo wrestler or hedge-fund investor/ or smelly pit-sniffing deodorant tester,” goes one stanza, proving that Yankovic’s talents extend beyond changing the lyrics of Billboard hits into songs about food.