Sunday, April 3, 2022

Don McLean's American Pie: A Fable


I think most people have heard the song, "American Pie" but I personally never gave much thought to the meaning of the lyrics. I could not find an authoritative answer from several articles written about it (other than "the day the music died" referring to Buddy Holly's plane crash). 

From the publisher notes:

Lushly illustrated and poetically written with numerous nods to the nostalgic themes and cryptic lyrics of the beloved song, Don McLean’s American Pie: A Fable is a picture book McLean says he hopes will become a bedtime standard for families. 

Whether you read this as a prequel to the musical masterwork, or as a tale of growing up, or as a beautiful exploration of finding inspiration, Don McLean's American Pie: A Fable will both enhance the song for fans of Don McLean and introduce a world of imagination to young readers who have not yet experienced this generation-defining music.

I only saw the above comments on the NetGalley website; those notes were not included in the book itself. Nor were there any end notes or historical comments about the song inside the book. Given the title of this book, I'd assumed it would offer either some background on the author's childhood or influences for writing the song. It was not at all obvious how the book had much to do with the song at all. Perhaps adults who loved the song will better read meaning into its pages, but I feel any parallels will be lost on young readers.

I'm not sure how a child picking up this book would make any connection to the song.  I have to say that I'm also confused by the assertion that the book contains "numerous nods to the nostalgic themes and cryptic lyrics of the beloved song."  I must be incredibly dense because even after perusing the original lyrics several times, I failed to identify any "nods" in the picture book.

Taking the book at face value, the fable itself is rather ambiguous (in that, the book is similar to the song). A newspaper boy is full of imagination and fills his mind with adventures as he delivers papers. Then one day, the boy begins to receive a note from one of his customers, and instead of living out fantasies in his mind, he now anticipates his daily letter. It would seem to imply that only lonely children use their imagination and that once he had the hope of a friend (even anonymous), he no longer lived in a fantasy world. 

And then the letters stop (I presume this is analogous to the music stopping), and the boy is left with a gift that helps him move into a new chapter of creativity. The illustrations were bright and engaging and readers will be fascinated by the depictions of the boy's imagination.  I would encourage parents to read this book with their child and discuss what their takeaway is and what they think it means. It could provide an interesting window into their child's own imagination. 

Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of Don McLean's American Pie: A Fable from NetGalley for the purpose of review; no other compensation was received.

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