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Monday, October 19, 2015

Fab Four Friends: The Boys Who Became the Beatles, written by Susanna Reich and illustrated by Adam Gustavson. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2015. $20.50 ages 6 and up

"The Quarrymen played one of their gigs in the back of a truck ... Soon they were playing at parties, school dances, and even a real music club, the Cavern. But when the Quarrymen launched into their first song, the manager almost kicked them off the stage. Skiffle groups weren't supposed to play rock 'n' roll! Some of the boys were ready to quit."

Luckily for fans, and for the world of music, John Lennon (musical leader of The Quarrymen) didn't give it up when faced with the trials of making a living playing the music he so loved.

In this new picture book biography, meant for a younger audience, the author chooses to chronicle the early lives of each one of the boys who became The Beatles. It is told with careful attention to their upbringing, their love of music, the path they take to form a band that takes the world by storm.

Susan Reich begins with John. After his parents divorced, his mother was often absent from his life. John lived with his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George and dreamed of being an artist, or a poet. With George's untimely death, John turned to music for solace. His mother noted his growing interest and bought John his first guitar. His first band was The Quarrymen, and although the others were ready to quit when facing adversity, John was not.

Paul heard John play at a church fair, loved his music and later played a few songs for him. It was a beginning. Paul's home was filled with music of all types. After his mother died, he played his music to assuage the pain. He loved rock 'n' roll. After meeting John, Paul joined his band. They wrote songs, played guitar together and dreamed of being like their rock 'n' roll idols ... Ray Charles, the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly.

George was Paul's friend. He loved listening to The Quarrymen and was doubly impressed with John. He worked tirelessly to improve his guitar playing. He was soon playing lead guitar with The Quarrymen. Life was tough for the three as they tried desperately to forge their music into a viable vocation. They became The Beatles and found work in Hamburg.

"Before long, people were pouring into the club. Hour after hour, night after night, the Beatles worked the crowd into a frenzy with songs like "Good Golly Miss Molly", "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" and "Great Balls of Fire.'' The Germans went wild!"

Their return to England was not auspicious; but, they finally managed to find a producer who liked their sound and agreed to cut four Lennon-McCartney songs. All they really needed now was a drummer.

Richard Starkey lived with his grandparents and loved adventure games with his pals. He was often sick, and spent extended periods of time hospitalized. While there, he fell in love with the drums. He eventually quit his factory job to find work as a musician. He would need a new name. Ringo became the fourth member of The Beatles in 1962.

One year later, they had two hit songs, a firm friendship, and were on their way to making it big.

"Those boys had poured hundreds of hours of sweat, love, and teenage energy into their music. Their songs were irresistible and they were the best of friends."

The realism of Adam Gustavson's oil paintings will engage young readers, while providing an accurate picture of the time, the endless work and the close friendship that resulted in the growth of one of the most influential bands in musical history. What a gift this book is!

Back matter includes an author's note, a glossary, quote notes, and the sources used to do the diligent research that makes this book exemplary.

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