Legendary singer-songwriter Janis Ian, who’s expanded her creative output over the years to include authoring books (she combined her music and prose to win this year’s Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album for the audiobook version of her autobiography Society's Child), has broadened both sides of her career with The Tiny Mouse (Lemniscaat).
Ian’s first children’s book, it is accompanied by a CD of her singing “The Tiny Mouse,” the song from which the book evolved.
About the adventures of a mouse that leaves behind his carefree life to find excitement at sea, The Tiny Mouse was illustrated by the award-winning husband-and-wife illustration team of Ingrid and Dieter Schubert.
"It’s the first time they’ve illustrated a book that wasn’t their own story,” says Ian. “But they're big fans of mine from years ago, and fell in love with the mouse!”
The “Tiny Mouse” song resulted from a commission from Dame Cleo Laine, who attended an Ian performance in London last year.
“I’d gotten a four-star review in The London Times on my last U.K. tour, which reminded her how she loved ‘Jesse,’” says Ian, that much-covered song being a 1973 hit for Roberta Flack. She relates how Laine and late husband Sir John Dankworth, the great jazz composer and musician, had founded The Stables as a music venue for concerts and educational activities.
Located in the village of Wavendon near the town of Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire, The Stables produces the annual IF: Milton Keynes International Festival, for which it commissioned a CD of original songs composed by select singer-songwriters and musicians from different genres, each putting to music a story about the pieces of wood donated by the public to construct a 30-foot boat that sailed around the southeast of England in celebration of the 2012 London Olympics.
Each piece had a memorable story behind it, and one of them had a tiny carving of a mouse.
“It turned out that the woman who donated it, her father had been a writer,” says Ian. “She was allowed to go into his study, which had a jack-in-the-box with the mouse that popped out. So I had a really great start to the song: Obviously, a tiny mouse who lived in a tiny house! I’d never written a children’s song other than one for Sesame Street, and I discovered that I could say anything I wanted to and let my imagination run wild. It was the most fun I had for an entire week in years!”
After finishing the song, she played it for a friend, who knew a marketing rep for writers.
“I got a call a month later that the Schuberts wanted to illustrate it!” says Ian.
The Tiny Mouse book, which has its own website, also includes sheet music for piano and guitar as well as the lyrics, with the CD featuring both band with vocal and band without vocals. Ian hopes families will make their own videos using the band track and post them on YouTube and other social media sites.
Meanwhile, she looks to return to the studio early next year to record before touring Europe in March. Then it’s back home to Nashville to record a children’s album.
"What I love about children’s music is that it’s so wide open,” she says. “Kids have a great way of bringing everything back down to a level ground. I was at a book festival last week, and had a puppet of the tiny mouse dressed by a fan like the mouse in the book, and kids were just completely entranced. They didn’t care about me, but kept looking at the mouse and petting it and asking it questions!”
“It’s a whole other world of fun, and I’m really enjoying it!” adds Ian.
And the wooden tiny mouse?
“It now sits on the boat’s wheel and pilots the boat!” she says. “It went down the Thames as part of the Olympics procession, as the mouse song played!”