Though this is a book review for Michael Franti‘s book – What I Be – I have to preface the review bits with a story… Feel free to skip ahead to the review bits, but I wanted to provide a bit of context.
In March 2010, my wife and daughters went to the John Mayer concert at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. Opening for Mayer was Michael Franti, the lead vocalist for Spearhead. My girls were just as excited about Michael as they were about seeing John Mayer, though I had never heard the song “Say Hey (I Love You)” before we purchased the tickets for my youngest daughter’s 5th birthday.
When they arrived at the concert, they were met inside by a lady we only know as the “John Mayer Ticket Fairy.” And when this nice gal discovered that this was AJ’s first rock concert, she gave the three of them front row tickets on the spot. To say the least, everybody had an amazing time during the concert and both my daughters were brought on stage with several other kids in the audience to dance and sing with Michael.
We will never be able to top this concert experience. But I think Michael has made friends for life.
When my wife discovered that Michael had written a children’s book – What I Be – she asked me to see if I might be able to get it to review. So I asked the nice folks who handle the press for Mr. Franti if they’d mind if I did so and they were kind enough to send not just one copy, but four! We’ll be donating a copy to the elementary school my daughters attend as well as the Pikes Peak Library District in our home town of Colorado Springs.
So what is What I Be? What I Be originally appeared as a song on Michael’s album Everybody Deserves Music and was adapted as an illustrated children’s book later. The story emphasizes the journey of self-acceptance that we all go through as kids and even as adults by taking on the characteristics of nature, which is a great analogy that just about everybody can probably understand.
Far too often, I think we look at nature but don’t see it for what it is. We consider ourselves apart from nature, when in fact we wouldn’t be here without it. So though the book centers on the journey of self, I think there’s also an environmental aspect to the story that shouldn’t be overlooked.
The main message is to share those qualities with others you most want to be associated with. Enjoy life and share laughter, wash away the pain of others, and generate clean air like the tallest trees. Understand your heritage, share the fruits of your labor, feel emotions like waves on the ocean… How can you argue with those sentiments? Through the use of analogy, metaphor, simile, and expressive, descriptive adjectives kids will connect with this book on multiple levels.
Ben Hodson illustrated the book beautifully in a style that evokes the openness of Michael’s message and makes it very kid-friendly. He’s illustrated other book such as Pigs Aren’t Dirty, Bears Aren’t Slow and Other Truths about Misunderstood Animals,” which has such an intriguing title I had to order a copy.
Also included with What I Be is a CD featuring Michael, his son Ade Franti-Rye, and their friend Youssoupha Sidibe singing along and playing with the text of the book. It’s fun to read along with Michael and listen to Sidibe playing a Kora (Senegalese harp).
If you’re looking for a colorful, fun book as a gift for some young reader, What I Be lays a beautiful foundation for further discussion of self acceptance and an awareness of our connection to nature. Definitely good messages all around. For more information about Michael Franti, Spearhead, or his book, be sure to check out his website at MichaelFranti.com.
This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.