What a Wonderful World, as sung by Louis Armstrong, illustrated by Tim Hopgood. Holt, 2014.
Dr. V’s take:
When my son and I were both under the weather on a grey spring day, we came home from running some horribly tedious errands, took off our wet socks and grabbed a blanket and this book. Instead of reading aloud in my hoarse, congested voice, I let Louis Armstrong sing it for us. We had a full several minutes of cozy serenity. It was like parenting nirvana. It is imperative that everyone knows about this magical book.
Tim Hopgood isn’t the first person to remediate a song into a children’s book. It’s a great idea—-Mother Goose would agree, I suspect—-yet it’s more difficult than it seems to pull off. One would think that good words + good pictures = good children’s book, but just because words are good for Bob Dylan to….sing I guess? Maybe choke? How about we go with sing. doesn’t mean they’re good for a mere mortal to read aloud to a small child. Things like repetition of a chorus or interjections like “Yeah!” all seem perfectly reasonable when you’re listening to someone cool sing them in a classic song, but feel perfectly ridiculous when you’re reading them over and over out loud on the couch in your dowdy sweater. Immediately, Jon Muth’s adaptation of Blowin’ in the Wind presents a conundrum: do I say it “blowing” or “blowin'”? You try saying “blowin,'” and you’re like, “that was weird, I would never say that,” so next time you switch to “blowing,” and you sound like someone’s great aunt Mabel ruining pop culture again, and you’re like, “no that’s worse,” and then you just feel silly until the book is over.
These are serious problems.
But Hopgood’s adaptation of the beloved song written by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss and sung so bittersweetly by Louis Armstrong has none of these problems. As a song, “What a Wonderful World” offers the total package: poetic lyrics, a lovely lilting melody, and a signature performance by a great artist. As a book, What a Wonderful World adds pictures that complement the optimistic-but-not-twee song perfectly with saturated blocks of color that fill the pages. Hopgood’s illustrations don’t change the song, but enhance it; What a Wonderful World is a song, visualized. It’s paced well to read right along with Armstrong’s recording—-you won’t be frantically turning pages or getting lost. Yet Hopgood’s inclusion of a gender- and race-ambiguous child and a little blue bird on each page gives the book a master narrative, a through-line that makes it feel unified and organic, and the lyrics sound just as nice when spoken, which makes What a Wonderful World work just as successfully on its own.
By the time you get to the end of Hopgood’s book, damned if you don’t think the world IS wonderful—-and that’s good, because the exultant feeling one gets from being the person that introduces a human person to the existence of things like rainbows is what keeps the population going despite all the diapers and late nights and the where-do-you-think-you’re-going-young-mans of parenting.
(I have but one, very small quibble with this book: the music notes sprinkled across the pages are pure decoration. I’m not expecting formal sheet music or anything like that, but the notes are written in a way that is completely nonsensical. Why do artists think eighth notes are the only ones that count? This bugs me because there’s more than one kind of literacy, and it strikes me as sort of rude to act like one kind of reading doesn’t matter. But I’m definitely making too much of this.)
This is a book worth buying, if you’re into that sort of thing. I don’t think access to books should cost money (support your library!) in general, and at 18 bucks, this one is not cheap. But if you’re interested in buying a book, this is the sort of title that prompts warm memory-making, and its sturdy construction, lovely pictures, and timeless text give it handing-down potential.