"Imagine." The opening chords are unmistakable, and the lyrics are familiar worldwide: "Imagine there's no heaven./ It's easy if you try." Countless artists have covered the haunting utopian 1971 anthem by Beatles founder John Lennon, including Diana Ross, Eddie Vedder, Madonna, Elton John, Willie Nelson, Lady Gaga and the New York Philharmonic. Human rights organization Amnesty International has now joined these exalted ranks to "cover" Lennon's iconic song in a beautiful picture book illustrated by French graphic artist Jean Jullien.
The lyrics of "Imagine" suit the idyllic, positive worldview of many children: "Imagine all the people/ living life in peace./ You may say I'm a dreamer,/ but I'm not the only one./ I hope some day you'll join us,/ and the world will be as one." Accompanied by only the song's 22 lines as text, Jullien illustrates the story of one pigeon (a member of the dove family) spreading Lennon's message of hope and tolerance around the world.
In the first charming scene, the earnest-looking gray bird, carrying a little orange messenger bag with a peace sign patch, steps off a crowded subway and embarks on a journey over land and sea. Along the way, it encounters a variety of birds, all of whom seem to need the comfort it offers along with tiny bestowed olive branches. Seagulls stop their squabbling over a fish when the pigeon shares its message ("Nothing to kill or die for"). A rainbow of songbirds find shelter under its wings ("I hope some day you'll join us"). And a pair of hummingbirds fighting over a flower make peace after it dive-bombs them with love ("Imagine no possessions").
The most moving part of the book comes near the end, when the pigeon, exhausted from its efforts, alights on a tree and kicks back for a well-deserved rest ("You may say I'm a dreamer"). In the pages that follow, all the birds it touched ("but I'm not the only one") set off on their own journeys, with their own olive branches to give.
A robin's-egg blue background predominates in Imagine, making the childlike depictions of birds and flowers pop. The boldly outlined pigeon is appealingly evocative of Mo Willem's pigeon in Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, The Duckling Gets a Cookie? and others. Jullien (Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise; Before & After; This Is Not a Book) is based in London and Los Angeles, and his work includes illustration, photography, video, costumes, installations and books (to name a few). He also created the Peace for Paris symbol after the terror attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015.
Just days before his death, Lennon acknowledged that his wife, artist and musician Yoko Ono, should have been credited with "the lyric and the concept" of "Imagine" since its inspiration came from her 1964 self-published collection of "instructions" called Grapefruit. In her introduction to this picture book, Ono writes, in a style clearly aimed at young readers, "[W]e can all help make the world a better place in our own way. We should always keep love in our hearts, and look after one another. We should always share what we have, and we should stand up for people who are not being treated fairly.... We should treat everybody the same, no matter where they are from or if they speak a different language. After all, the pigeon in this book welcomes all the other birds, whatever color of feathers or shape of beak they have." The sentiment, never irrelevant, comes at a time when it is needed more than ever. Scheduled to be released on September 21, 2017--the International Day of Peace--Imagine will likely be welcomed by people of all ages and all backgrounds.
In an afterword by Amnesty International, Lennon and Ono's pleas for a peaceful, fair world are reinforced, and the concept and history of human rights is discussed: "Human rights are rooted in values such as fairness, truth, equality, love, home, and safety. They are part of what makes us human and no one should take them away from us." Re-packaging the beloved song in a picture book format is a brilliant way to bring much-needed attention back to the simple--though not easy--goal of "living life in peace." After all, music art and peace have the power to change the world, making it "as one," as Lennon reminds us. --Emilie Coulter