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Issue Date: August 2004 Issue

Bowled Over By Bowie

Over the years, classic rock music has inspired everything from ballets to Broadway musicals. But Gates Mills native Jamilla Naji's effort has taken an unusual, if not downright unique, spin. She's created "Musical Storyland" (Worlds In Ink Publishing, $19.95), a sing-along book and compact disc for children featuring 10 songs written and recorded by rock icon David Bowie during the 1960s. The book, illustrated with the 42-year-old free-lance artist's own works, is a self-published labor of love that took 2 1/2 years and $50,000 of her own money to complete.

Naji says most of the colorful, kid-friendly illustrations in "Musical Storyland" were conjured long ago, during adolescent daydreams to relatively innocent, obscure tracks such as "Rubber Band," "Maid of Bond Street" and "Love You Till Tuesday," all of which are included on the book's accompanying CD.

"The imagery was so incredible," she says of the lyrics. "It would create in my mind these pictures and places." But it wasn't until after the one-time substance-abuse and vocational-rehabilitation counselor started painting full time in 1997 that she seriously considered committing her American folk art-style visions to canvas for a children's book. In early 2002, she began tracking down the owners of the U.S. publishing rights to and master recordings of Bowie's early compositions — a painstaking process that took as much time as illustrating the book. Arranging for the manufacture of 10,000 CDs by Universal Music and the printing of an equal number of books by a Hong Kong company followed.

At press time, Bowie, who is currently on tour, had yet to weigh in with an opinion on "Musical Storyland." When it comes to projecting sales of the new book, however, perhaps the best critic to consult is Naji's 2-year-old daughter, Kessra Fay.

"She's a little too young to understand the lyrics," Naji says, "but it's her favorite book."

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