Riveting Riffs Logo One If I Were the Moon By Jesse Terry
Jesse Terry Interview Photo One

If you want to buy a great book for a child probably in the age range of two to six years old, Riveting Riffs Magazine would recommend If I Were the Moon, with the story by singer and songwriter Jesse Terry and beautifully illustrated by Jacqueline East.  The book was first a song with the same title and the feedback from Jesse Terry’s fans was he should adapt it to a book, which is exactly what he did during the COVID pandemic. They were connected through the publisher Schiffer Publishing Ltd. and the publishing imprint Schiffer Kids.

Let’s start with the song Jesse, “The song is an honest expression of emotion and it was written for my daughter Lily. It was a song that came out quickly and it felt beautiful. When I sang it live, people started saying that should be a children’s book. That is how it came about.

The more you write you start coming back to themes that you realize are important to you and that resonate with you. There were themes about family, but I don’t think there were any in the children’s book realm. Even this one happened organically. It wasn’t intended to be a children’s book.

When COVID hit the lives of everybody changed in an instant. We were thinking about different projects that we could pivot to. My wife works in live events and she lost her job. I remembered what my fans had said in their feedback to this song. I thought that sounded like a really great idea and I became passionate about creating this book.

Jesse Terry Interview Photo ThreeA friend of mine introduced us to their publisher and they said don’t get your hopes up, because this is a longshot. They (the publisher) got right back to us and said, we love it and we would like to offer you a book deal. It was an organic and easy thing, which rarely happens in the arts world. Schiffer Publishing have been amazing to us as first-time authors. They held our hand. There is an artform to everything and the nitty gritty that only the experts know.”

For those who purchase the book, which is also available at Jesse Terry’s concerts, they receive a bonus, because they can download for free the song and the sheet music from the Jesse Terry website.

The cover of the book is illustrated in pastel colors, against a darker blue canvas, with gold lettering announcing the title. The blonde-haired child on the swing is based on Jesse Terry’s daughter Lily, right down to her rain boots and clothes. Accompanying her on the swing, moored by moonbeams, are a baby elephant and bunny, with the kindly white moon looking down on them.

As for why and the how of the title If I Were the Moon, he explains, “That was a line / title that just fell out. I was staying with my family at a condo in Wildwood, New Jersey and you could see the ocean from the balcony and the moon was really bright and shining down that night. ‘If I were the moon,’ just popped out. It took several months for me to figure out what I wanted to do with that. I think you have to be aware when your mind thinks something is interesting or when it makes your mind perk up. It took a little while for me to figure out what I wanted the song to be about. I thought personifying the moon for my daughter would be great. You want to protect your children and you almost need a higher power to do that, because life is so crazy. Things can change your life in an instant.”

As for connecting with Jacqueline East, Jesse Terry says, “Our publisher sent us a few names of illustrators, but they also said you can use whoever you want. Do your research and we did, but it turned out we fell in love with Jacqueline’s work. We knew that she would be perfect. We wrote to her and we called her over in Bristol, England and we had our fingers crossed that she would say yes and she did.

Like Schiffer Publishing, Jacqueline has been at this for a long time. She has illustrated and written books for decades. She was very generous with her knowledge. I learned the whole process from storyboarding to what eventually became the full paintings. It was very new to me. At one point I asked Jacqueline a question and she said, ‘I am not the author you know (he chuckles). I am the illustrator. I think of it as co-writing a song, but in a co-writing situation you will say let’s bring in this guy, because he is the best melody writer I have ever heard. He is not the strongest lyricist, but he is the best melody writer. I felt like for me I had the story, and I had the words, but what Jacqueline did was a whole other thing. I would tell her what I was envisioning and then she created it. It was really magical to see these paintings come in. They are watercolor paintings. At one point I said to her this might be a stupid idea, but can you do a scene where you can see underwater and also overwater? She said yes. I can do that! That is one of my favorite illustrations in the book. There are dolphins below the water and Lily and her animal friends are in the rowboat up top and the moon is up top. Jacqueline was so cool, because I said is there a little mouse poking up from behind a leaf? In the underwater scene there is a little octopus down at the bottom and some jelly fish. Everything seemed to fit seamlessly. She has a knack for composition and the incredible art that she (creates).”

Part of the magic with this book is every time you read it and look at the illustrations you notice something you had not seen before, because Jacqueline East put so much detail into her illustrations. Maybe it is a goose wearing a sailing cap, perhaps a bird sliding down a moonbeam, the little green turtles or starfish. To be both cute and reinforcing safety, not only is Lily wearing a bicycle riding helmet, but so are the goose, the elephant and the bunny.  

He says, “I documented how I wanted them to be painted, what kind of light I wanted and what type of scene I wanted. I would sometimes see a photograph and I would say don’t paint this, but this is kind of vibe. Maybe if I was writing a song with a great melody writer I would say, I want something that is like say Brian Wilson, but not that. That is the vibe.

I think (pastel colors) is more Jacqueline’s personal style. I did tell her I wanted the moon lit and the really dark indigos, but I think if you look at Jacqueline’s work, she has a certain palette and style, even though she is very versatile and does a lot of different things. I love her style. I always think of music analogies, but if you hire a guitar player to play on your folk album, you don’t hire the Punk guy and say, can you play something more like James Taylor or Bonnie Raitt. It was really important to find the person who resonated with us.”

Writing a book is obviously different than writing a song, so we wondered how Jesse Terry needed to adapt his writing style.

“Yes, definitely we went through that. It is a whole new thing. It’s not just like adding lyrics to a song, Jacqueline you go paint this. We added some lines to the book as well. When you are filling in more of the blanks it is a very different experience. It has to be appealing to children. It has to be something that is digestible for both an older person and a four-year-old. It was a whole new experience for me. I don’t know how to even talk about that.

I enjoy the process of creating art, letting things go and then putting them out into the world. I don’t always understand it,” he says.

And Lily, what does she think?

“She had heard the songs and it helped as she got older and as artwork started to come in. Jacqueline used real photographs of outfits Lily was wearing to develop this character in the book. Even when she was just three Lily would say that’s Lily, that’s Lily. She has always known that it is about her and that she is in the book and she has always been tickled by that. Now I think she has a sense of pride and she understands more of it every day. She talks about it at school and with her friends. I like that it is an evolving thing that she will treasure for her whole life.”

There are some public book readings planned for If I Were the Moon.

“We are just setting some of those up now. We have some in Florida and we are going to do some local readings. We have wonderful bookstores near us. We are very lucky that we have some of the best. Since Schiffer is a worldwide publisher, we are also working with the team over in Europe to set up readings across the pond later this year. That is all about to start happening and I will have to tell you how it goes. I think it will be really good. I love that I can play the song and the majority of the words are the same and I can show people how the book began.

The response to the book so far has been great. We did a pre-sale for signed and personalized books and we sold (a lot). People would send me messages of what they wanted me to write. I have also played a few shows since the book has been out and it has sold really well at the shows. It is an interesting thing and a physical item that you can sell. I think people still want to hold something even if they are not into CDs. Reading a physical book can transport you to another place and time and I am not sure if a tablet does that the same way,” he says.

Might there be some other Jesse Terry songs that we see turning into books in the future?

“I think there might be one more. I am definitely into the idea of writing more books. We just had a son and I feel it wouldn’t be fair to him, if he wasn’t in a book as well. We don’t want to cause any issues of jealousy. We also have canvases of art all over our place. It is beautiful art, but I definitely want it to be balanced for him. I am thinking of how the next one will be and how I will do it. I could go down the same path and write a song for him.

The thing I like about this song and the book as well, is it is written as one of my normal songs. It was written as an adult song that everyone can relate to. I love that this came about organically. I love Raffi, but I didn’t set out to write a Raffi song and I don’t intend on doing that the next time,” says Jesse Terry.  

As for the journey this book may take, any thoughts?

“I hope it is really successful and brings people a lot of joy and comfort. It was written as a message of comfort and empowerment for my daughter. I hope it inspires those feelings not just in my daughter, but in many people around the globe, young and old,” he says.

Please visit the Jesse Terry website.

#JesseTerryMusic #JesseTerryBook #ChildrensBook #RivetingRiffs #RivetingRiffsMagazine #JacquelineEastIllustrator #SchifferPublishing #SchifferKids

This review by Joe Montague published April 29th, 2023 is protected by copyright © and is the property of Riveting Riffs Magazine All Rights Reserved.  All photos are the the property of Jesse Terry and Schiffer Publishing unless otherwise noted and all  are protected by copyright © All Rights Reserved. This review may not be reproduced in print or on the internet or through any other means without the written permission of Riveting Riffs Magazine.