From Peter, Paul, and Mary's Puff the Magic Dragon to Jerry Garcia-David Grisman's 1993 Not for Kids Only, and even the Beatles' Yellow Submarine, many popular and folk musicians have released children's albums. Although this is a region where Bob Dylan has never strayed, some of Dylan's songs have recently been adapted to children's books. On the heels of 2008's “Forever Young,” a children's book adapted from Dylan's 1973 song and illustrated by Paul Rogers, now comes “Man Gave Names to All the Animals,” a charming new book illustrated by naturalist and children's artist, Jim Arnosky.
Dylan's Original Vision
When Bob Dylan wrote “Man Gave Names to All the Animals,” it was one of the first songs inspired by his 1978 Christian rebirth. The lyrics—in an almost nursery rhyme simplicity—were laid down to rhyhmic-based ska tracks for inclusion in the first installment of Dylan's soon-to-be trilogy of spiritual albums, 1979's Slow Train Coming. Recorded at Alabama's famous Muscle Shoals studio, the sing-along soon became a feature of Dylan's live shows. Like most of the album's songs, “Man Gave Names to All the Animals” was rooted in scripture, and is Dylan's answer to the Book of Genesis, when Adam was given the task of naming all the Earth's creatures.
From Genesis 2:19-20: And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them; and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all the cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field.
A Song Becomes a Children's Book
This isn't the first time the song was adapted for children. Now out of print, in 1999, Harcourt Brace released a more abstract edition of "Man Gave Names to All the Animals" in a book illustrated by Scott Menchin.
The new release, completely unrelated to the aforementioned edition, takes a different, entirely naturalist approach to Dylan's lyrics. Three decades after the song's release, Arnosky—illustrator of Slither and Crawl and Wild Tracks!, and a big fan of Dylan's music—decided it would translate perfectly into a children's book. As he inscribes on the opening page: “In 'Man Gave Names to All the Animals,' Bob Dylan has created a song that I think everyone can enjoy singing. From the time I first heard it, the lyrics created pictures in my mind of a land of primeval beauty, where the sky and the earth were new, where plants first grew, and the animals knew no fear. I thought this vision would make a dream of a book, and I asked for Bob Dylan's permission to make this dream come true. Happily, he said yes.”
Read-Aloud or Sing-Along With Uncle Bob
From page one of Arnosky's adaptation (for ages 3 and up), the illustrations sing with bright, vibrant colors, depicting panoramic scenes with bunches of animals in geology ranging from jungle to savanna, prairie to mountain, as well as lakes and oceans, and big skies at both morning, day, sunset and night. Meanwhile, page to page, animal to animal, Dylan's lyrics accompany Arnosky's lush illustrations:
He saw an animal that liked to growl,
Big furry paws and he liked to howl,
Great big furry back and furry hair.
“Ah, think I'll call it a bear.”
Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, in the beginning.
Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, long time ago.
The animals live in harmony in Dylan/Arnosky's portrayal of paradise, with an alligator swimming next to a dolphin, a hawk resting on a bull's horn, or a toucan alighting on a camel's head. With an included CD of Dylan's original recording, children and parents can enjoy reading aloud or singing along to the upbeat island rhythm. More, while Dylan's song presents six animals, Arnosky illustrated over 170 different species—anything from a long nose gar to a marsh hawk, a bumblebee to a dragonfly—followed by a "Can you find them?" list on the last page so that children can identify scores of others throughout the book.
This brilliantly adapted volume is not only a fun and excellent means for children to discover the diversity of Earth's fauna, but also a delightful initiation into Bob Dylan's timeless music.