Ballads Turned YA Novels
So I’m sitting doing my blogging the other day while my husband was playing some good old-fashioned 60s tunes on the computer when “Ode to Billie Joe” by Bobbie Gentry comes up. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it or not but if you aren’t you can see what may well be the creepiest spot to ever air on a Smothers Brothers show at the bottom of this post. It involves mannequins. It doesn’t need to, of course, since that song is creepy enough without throwing in any extras. It’s one of those song/stories where our heroine listens as her family reveals several damning observations via their friends and neighbors, the most pertinent being:
A. That nice Billie Joe went and threw himself off a bridge and
B. The local preacher noticed our heroine with Billie Joe not that long ago on that same bridge and the two were throwing “something” over the side.
Of course the degree to which this song creeps me out is only rivaled by the enjoyment I get from listening to it. Then it got me to thinking . . . are there any cases where song/stories have been turned into YA novels? Imagine for a moment that we live in a world where copyright would allow folks to write novels based on popular songs. Certainly Nancy Werlin wrote Impossible a couple years ago which was ostensibly based on that Simon & Garfunkle song “Scarborough Fair”. But S&G cribbed that puppy from a classic folk ballad anyway so it didn’t really count. There are plenty of cases where picture books are made out of hit songs, but they’re always done by the singers themselves (Puff the Magic Dragon, Blowin’ in the Wind, etc.).
Here then are the songs that would most intrigue me to see adapted into full-blown novels.
1. Ode to Billie Joe by Bobbie Gentry – You’ve got a lot to work with there.
2. Thriller by Michael Jackson – Two ways you could go about it. You could either adapt the music video into a full novel (and in this era of zombie and werewolf YA novels hither thither and yon wouldn’t it sell so well?) or you could simply take the song as your guide. Either way win-win.
3. Son of a Preacher Man by Dusty Springfield – I’m sure something along these lines already exists, but it’s not as if the smooth talking PK is a common literary trope. Not in YA anyway.
4. American Pie by Don McLean – In envision this one as sort of a crazy mash-up, semi-psychedelic. Maybe done in such a way where the song is a metaphor for the book (yes, I know what it’s actually about, but I think we can move away from that too).
5. In the Year 2525 by Zager and Evans – Well, I had to include something for the current dystopian craze, didn’t I? Plus this one also creeps me out, which I figure is a good litmus test for a novel.
Those are just off the top of my head. I’m sure there are more current songs you could include. And lots from the past (anything by Cher, essentially). Feel free to chime in with other ideas.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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