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Joni: The Lyrical Life of Joni Mitchell

Written & illustrated by Selina Alko
Published by HarperCollins
3.88 / 7.0
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Goodreads Rating - 4.0 / 5.0
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What Does Bookroo Think of This Book

“A picture book biography of Joni Mitchell that will be most adored by fans of her life and work.”

In this colorful picture book biography of singer and songwriter Joni Mitchell, Alko covers Mitchell’s life from childhood through her experimental music sessions and 1970s album with the late Charles Mingus. Joni is a creative child, spending time painting and dancing, and though her parents love her and at times encourage and support her creativity—her mom teaches her bird calls and lets her paint on the wall of her room—the order and cleanliness of their house seems stifling to Joni, who feels “like an upside-down bird on a wire” in her childhood home. The story covers her suffering with polio and hints at the isolation she feels when her mom only visits once during the six weeks she spends at the hospital, as well as her crying in the intensity of her suffering, “I will make something of myself.” Alko portrays Mitchell’s journey from Canada to New York City to California and the musicians and relationships along the way that influence and shape her music and life, including Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, Leonard Cohen, James Taylor, and Graham Nash. Capturing many details of Mitchell’s life, the biography may feel long by the end, especially for those less interested in Mitchell’s life and work. Alko’s illustrations, created with acrylic paint, found objects, and wildflowers, are a remarkable collage of color, shapes, and feeling, true to the creativity and range of emotion and experience shared by Mitchell in her music. “I sing my sorrow, and I paint my joy.” An Author’s Note is included that explains Alko’s inspiration for the book and her personal connection with Mitchell and her work.

What's This Book About

Publisher Summary

“Colors burst across each page, with layers of collage-work emphasizing the richness of Mitchell’s influences and imagination. Will speak to readers just starting their own exploration of artistic expression.” —Booklist (starred review)

Celebrate the captivating life of Joni Mitchell, the world-famous songbird who used her music to ignite and inspire an entire generation, in this stunning picture book biography from award-winning author and illustrator Selina Alko.

Joni Mitchell painted with words.

Sitting at her piano or strumming the guitar, she turned the words into songs.

The songs were like brushstrokes on a canvas, saying things that were not only happy or sad but true.

But before composing more than two hundred songs, Joni was a young girl from a town on the Canadian prairie, where she learned to love dancing, painting, birdsong, and piano. As she grew up into an artist, Joni took her strong feelings—feelings of love and frustration, and the turbulence that came with being a young woman—and wrote them into vivid songs.

Brought to life by Selina Alko’s rainbow collages and lyrical language, this heartfelt portrait of a feminist and folk icon is perfect for parents, children, and music lovers everywhere.

Back matter includes a letter from the author and Joni’s full discography.

“An inspired and creative ode to the inimitable Joni Mitchell.” —Kirkus

“Layered mixed-media collages featuring cut paper, found images, and colorful smears of paint effectively evoke the richly rendered emotional landscapes of Mitchell’s songwriting.” —Publishers Weekly

What Kind of Book is Joni: The Lyrical Life of Joni Mitchell

Quotes from This Book

  • "Rainbows tiptoed and jumped and skipped in her head."
  • "I will make something of myself."

What Questions Should I Ask My Child

  • As a young girl, Joni suffered from polio. This was a trying experience that also fortified her resolve to be accomplished in her life. What challenges have inspired you?

  • Joni used music as a way of expressing her emotions, happiness, sadness, and more. Turn on some music with your young reader and talk to them about what feelings the music evokes in him or her.

  • The creative illustrations in this book are done in part with a collage of found objects. You could explain this to your young reader, then allow him or her to create an artwork using objects he or she finds over the next week.

Trusted Reviews & Ratings

The Goodfather
Favorite pastime? Reading with my kids. Just finished Nana Cracks the Case!
3.5 / 7.0
The Book Snob Mom
Mom of boys. Lover of Harry Potter, Jane Austen and believes one can never own too many children's books!
4.25 / 7.0

Book Lists That Include Joni: The Lyrical Life of Joni Mitchell

Book Topics › musicians
Children's Books About Musicians
Book Topics › feelings and emotions
Fabulous Children's Books About Feelings and Emotions
Book Topics › biography
Children's Books About Biography
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Who Wrote Joni: The Lyrical Life of Joni Mitchell

author & illustrator
Selina Alko

Selina Alko grew up in Canada and has been a painter since she was a child. She loves mixing materials together to create artwork for her award-winning children’s books. Besides working in her studio, Selina likes to travel, be involved in her community, and spend time with her children. Selina makes her home in Brooklyn, NY, with her family and their two parakeets, Sunny and Snowy.

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What Has Selina Alko Said About This Book

Nothing yet! 🤷 You should let Selina know that you want more details about Joni: The Lyrical Life of Joni Mitchell!

Selina Alko's Book Dedication

For my dear sister, Karen, who shared our turbulent, creative, and often hilarious Canadian childhood. And a special thanks to Jill Davis, Chelsea C. Donaldson, and Liz Byer for bringing this book to life.

What Do Critics Say About This Book

  • “Layered mixed-media collages featuring cut paper, found images, and colorful smears of paint effectively evoke the richly rendered emotional landscapes of Mitchell’s songwriting.”

    Read the full review
  • “Influenced by the world around and within her, Mitchell “painted with words,” turning her words and feelings into songs that poignantly captured her time’s sadness, beauty, love, hope, and yearning for freedom, and Alko’s poetic text and vibrant illustrations effectively convey this.”

    Read the full review

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Book Details

Publication Date:
February 25, 2020
Illustration Details:
The artist used acrylic paint, collage, found objects, and wild flowers to create the illustrations for this book.
WorldCat Number (OCLC):

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