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Positively Bob Dylan

ANSWER: Who is Robert Allan Zimmerman?

QUESTION:  What is Bob Dylan’s real name?

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Who Is Bob Dylan? by Jim O’Connor with illustrations by John O’Brien, Grosset & Dunlap, 2013.

This easy-to-read chapter book biography is one of over 50 already published in the WHO WAS? series. Other recent titles include WHO WAS CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS? and WHAT WAS PEARL HARBOR? What drew me into this particular book written by Jim O’Connor and illustrated by John O’Brien (Grosset & Dunlap, $4.99, Ages 8 and up) was my complete lack of knowledge regarding Dylan’s early years, his influences and the fantastic cover art which transported me to Greenwich Village, “the center of the folk music scene in the early 1960s.”

From a very young age, Bob Zimmerman of Hibbing, Minnesota was interested in music and at age ten “decided to learn to play a musical instrument.” After one lesson from a cousin, he decided to teach himself. He then moved onto the guitar, also learning it on his own, and formed a band with two friends called the Golden Chords. Unlike the majority of Zimmerman’s classmates, he was Jewish. Early on he’d make up stories about his background, perhaps trying to create a more alluring persona yet at the same time wanting to keep a lot of personal details private. The book traces his musical journey from his hometown, to university, his arrival in New York’s Greenwich Village, onto Woodstock, back to Greenwich and eventually making a home in Malibu, CA. Readers will also find out about Bob’s various relationships including a very public one with Joan Baez.

Along the way, O’Connor adds fab factoids that round out the book. Three pages are devoted to Early Rock Legends, another enlightens readers as to assorted Dylan aliases throughout the years, there’s one on Folk Songs, on the Civil Rights Movement, Acoustic Versus Electric, Women’s Lib, Woodstock and Dylan’s Musical Universe. Plus, a world timeline and one devoted to Bob Dylan’s life show how much change was going on during his music career.

O’Connor conveys info about Dylan’s life in an objective way, straightforward way, leaving readers to form their own opinions about the man to whom, in 2012, President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Freedom. Kids first learning about Bob Dylan may be very surprised about his path to fame. I know I was.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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