July 06, 2006


The Jolly Mon: Book and Musical CD. By Jimmy Buffett & Savannah Jane Buffett. Illustrated by Lambert Davis. Harcourt. $17.95.

     This is a fairy tale of rare sensitivity, wonderfully told in words and wonderfully read on an included CD by singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett and his daughter, Savannah Jane Buffett.  The Jolly Mon is intended for children ages 3-7 but is sure to delight the whole family.  It has all the elements of fairy-tale telling: an exotic setting (the island of Bananaland), magic (in the forms of a guitar and a dolphin named Albion), bad guys (pirates led by One-Eyed Rosy), and a happy ending.

     The list of elements sounds ordinary, but the book is anything but.  The Buffetts make this a fable about the wonders of music and its healing powers.  The Jolly Mon finds a magical guitar in the surf one day, and travels with it from island to island, bringing joy to everyone – until he runs afoul of One-Eyed Rosy, who sneers, “People were not meant to be as happy as you make them,” and tosses the Jolly Mon overboard.  But Albion – the dolphin whose picture is on the magical guitar – rescues the Jolly Mon from certain doom, the good people of Bananaland find the pirates and lock them up, and the message is clear: people are meant to be as happy as the Jolly Mon makes them.

     Families will be happy not only with the story, which is delightful enough, but also with its presentation.  The pictures by Lambert Davis, who also illustrated the Buffetts’ Trouble Dolls, fit the story perfectly, superimposing a sense of the real even on the most unlikely scenes.  Davis has a marvelous sense of perspective: one of the best illustrations simply shows a small village and its people – from the viewpoint of a colorful bird perched high in a tree.

     At the end of the book is the sheet music for the song “Jolly Mon Sing,” by Jimmy Buffett, Will Jennings and Michael Utley – complete with words for all five verses.  And you can hear both book and music on the CD, in which the Buffetts themselves do the reading while Utley, Robert Greenidge and Ira Ingher perform music that fits the story like a glove.  And lest you think the Buffetts simply made the story up from their own fancy, the book’s introduction explains that there seems really to have been a musician named Albion in ancient times – and legend says he was indeed thrown overboard by pirates and rescued by a dolphin.

     Believe as much or as little of all this as you like.  One of the great charms of The Jolly Mon is that it will make you want to believe – perhaps not in the precise story as told here, but in the possibility of human friendship with other creatures sharing our planet, and the overarching power of music not only to soothe the savage breast but also to calm the mind and make the spirit soar.

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