Move over Madonna, the Boss is entering the celebrity children’s book market. Bruce Springsteen is to publish an illustrated cowboy story for youngsters about a bank-robber “trying to outrun his sins”.
Outlaw Pete, based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album, will be published by Simon & Schuster in November.
Frank Caruso, a cartoonist and writer, who had the idea of turning the song into a book, and persuaded Springsteen to write the text, provides the illustrations.
Springsteen, 64, joins Madonna, Sting and Sir Paul McCartney in the pantheon of music stars-turned-children’s authors.
The New Jersey rocker’s tale was inspired by memories of Brave Cowboy Bill, a 1950s children’s book which his mother read to him as a child.
But Springsteen, whose songs have provoked comparisons to John Steinbeck’s dustbowl narratives, promises a grittier children’s offering than Madonna’s best-selling tome, The English Roses.
Most iconic book covers
Most iconic book covers
1/12 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
Francis Cugat designed the cover art for Fitzgerald's quintessential jazz age novel. He finished it before the book was complete and the author liked it so much he 'wrote it into' the novel.
2/12 The Godfather - Mario Puzo
This 1969 cover art was produced by S Neil Fujita and became so iconic that the gothic typeface and puppeteer's hand were used as imagery in the film too.
3/12 The Cat in the Hat - Dr Seuss
Theodor Seuss Geisel designed this cartoon for his own 1957 children's classic.
4/12 Fifty Shades of Grey - EL James
If this cover to EL James' first erotic novel isn't one of the most iconic sleeves of recent times, we don't know what is.
5/12 The Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
Salinger was known for being fussy when it came to his book designs. He liked them simple with the only words being his name and the title, like this one by E Michael Mitchell.
6/12 'Porno' - Irvine Welsh
DJ Design came up with this crass cover for Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting sequel that few book-buyers could walk by without noticing.
7/12 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
American jazz musician and designer Paul Bacon created this simple yet striking cover for Heller's novel. He is also the man behind the One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Slaughterhouse-Five sleeves.
8/12 One Day - David Nicholls
Craig Ward designed this bright romantic sleeve for David Nicholls' 2009 novel.
9/12 A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess
David Pelham came up with this famous cover ten years after A Clockwork Orange was first published in 1962.
10/12 In Cold Blood - Truman Capote
S Neil Fujita designed this crime thriller's sleeve using a classic typeface, a strong black border and a simple drop of blood. The drop was brighter at first but Capote asked for it to be made darker as time had elapsed since the murders.
11/12 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
Illustrator Elmer Hader painted this by Steinbeck's request for his 1939 novel. He then created the cover art for East of Eden and The Winter of Our Discontent, too.
12/12 Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison
Edward McKnight Kauffer's powerful artwork represents the protagonist who is struggling to assert his identity in a world of hate.
His subject is a “killer and a thief” in the song, and Springsteen said: “Outlaw Pete is essentially the story of a man trying to outlive and outrun his sins.”
Caruso said: “Like Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, Dorothy Gale and for me, even Popeye, Outlaw Pete cuts deep into the folklore of our country and weaves its way into the fabric of great American literary characters.”
The story will appeal to adults too, said Jonathan Karp, Simon & Schuster’s president. “It’s a book for anybody who loves a good Western. It’s for readers of all ages,” he said.
“It has an adult sensibility, and so does the book. Outlaw Pete is a quintessentially Springsteen character, brought to life here, and like the song, it’s a meditation on fate.
“Pete is robbing banks at a very young age, and he does a lot of things he regrets, but as the lyric says, you can't undo the things you've done.”
Springsteen is plotting further literary forays. He has been quietly working on an autobiography but his busy touring schedule has prevented him from finalising the text. He is currently compiling “writings, miscellaneous writings” for an untitled project.
“The Boss” faces competition from another venerable rocker, Keith Richards, in the children’s book lists. The Rolling Stone next month publishes a picture book, Gus & Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar. It tells the story of Richards; grandfather, Theodore Augustus Dupree, who played in a jazz big band and introduced the young Keith to music.
Richards’ daughter Theodora Dupree Richards, who is named after Gus, has illustrated the book with pen and ink collages inspired by photographs of Richards’ childhood.
Sir Paul McCartney provided a more didactic approach with his children’s book, High in the Clouds, which imagined a world in which animals fight against a human threat to their habitat, in order to live in freedom and without fear.