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A for Art F for Functionality

Jeffrey Schwartz uses rock icons to teach toddlers the fundamentals.

Jeffrey Schwartz’s The Rock & Roll
Alphabet (Mojo Hand LLC; $14.95;
60 pp) claims to teach kids their ABCs while introducing them to classic rock performers. Only on the latter count does it definitely deliver.

Schwartz relies heavily on the recently rediscovered cache of photographs from the late Chuck Boyd, whose gorgeous, intimate portraits of stars from the ’60s and ’70s had been lost since the artist’s death in 1991.

The recently rediscovered collection, for which Schwartz serves as archive director, is arguably a treasure trove. For adult fans of vintage rock — from Aretha Franklin to Frank Zappa — the book can be a fun way to feel like they are teaching their kids while reminiscing.

The question is whether it reaches its intended audience. Those expecting a functional teaching tool should consider looking elsewhere. Most of the prints are in black and white, which captures intimate moments but not a toddler’s eye.

What does grab their attention confuses: My 3-year-old felt that a smiling, poncho-clad and heavily bearded Jerry Garcia looked like a “bad guy who played bad music.”
As for the accompanying text, the rhymed couplets are pedestrian and occasionally strained, and the content of the text (“G is for the Grateful Dead, a band that loved to jam …”) is often so general that it fails to say much at all. Often, the book fails to connect the letters with concrete objects and may even confuse children in multiple ways (e.g., “X is for T.rex, Bang a Gong, Get it On” … ?).

Some of the vocabulary might be difficult to parse for young kids. Take “D is for the Doors and their sonic exploration.” Some 3-year-olds might be able to appreciate that line, but they’re probably the exception rather than the rule.

My second-grader, gazing with trepidation at a picture of KISS in full regalia, offered a succinct critique: “Are you sure,” she asked, “that this is appropriate?” That’s the real question.

With my older kids, I found the book at least prompted questions and led to YouTube searches for classic performances. Their response mostly consisted of surprise that anyone listened to that stuff.  But if your goal is to find a way — any way — to get your children listening to the Rolling Stones instead of Hannah Montana, or to understand that the kids on Glee didn’t originate the songs of Fleetwood Mac, this is a decent start.

The good intentions of Schwartz and the Chuck Boyd Collection have really aimed at the wrong target here. One would hope for a more worthwhile vehicle for images reappearing in print for the first time in decades. The photos deserve and demand a format that lends itself to more discussion by older children, teens and interested adults. Rather than a spot on a toddler’s bookshelf, Boyd’s work deserves the full coffee-table book treatment.

That would really rock.



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