author: Harry Chapin
illustrator: Bryan Langdo
Hardcover picture book
9 x 11 inches
Release date: May 9, 2017
About the Book
Mr. Tanner runs a dry cleaning shop in Dayton, Ohio, where he spends his days greeting customers with his beautiful baritone voice. Friends and neighbors encourage him to sing professionally instead of cleaning clothes. He eventually takes a chance and travels to New York City to be heard by a concert agent and critics, only to find they aren’t hearing what he’s feeling.
The song “Mr. Tanner” was released in 1973 off Harry Chapin’s Short Stories album. The song was inspired by a mediocre New York Times review about a baritone singer. To read the original New York Times articles from 1971 and 1972 that this story was based on click here and here.
A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book will help support WhyHunger.
WhyHunger is a global non-profit founded in 1975 by the late musician and activist Harry Chapin and radio DJ Bill Ayres. Inspired by Harry’s vision of a world free from hunger and with social justice for all, WhyHunger is building the movement to end hunger and poverty by connecting people to nutritious, affordable food and by supporting grassroots solutions that inspire self-reliance and community empowerment. WhyHunger works to support, resource, and build the capacity of community organizations and social movements that are changing the systems, policies, and institutions that perpetuate hunger and poverty in our world.
They are transforming the collective food system into one that is socially and economically just, nourishes whole communities, cools the planet, and ensures the rights of all people to food, land, water, and sustainable livelihoods. Learn more at whyhunger.org.
About the Author/Illustrator
Harry Chapin (1942–1981) was an American singer-songwriter best known for his #1 hit "Cat’s in the Cradle." He was a true storyteller through his songs. He also was a humanitarian who fought to end world hunger and is one of the founders of WhyHunger. www.HarryChapinMusic.com
Bryan Langdo is the illustrator of over thirty books for children, including Salad Pie by Wendy BooydeGraaff. He is also a writer and editor. When he’s not in his art studio with some music playing, he likes to be outdoors with his wife and two children. Visit him at www.BryanLangdo.com. For an in-depth profile about Bryan, click here.
Reviews and Endorsements
From Midwest Book Review, May 2017:
Mr. Tanner runs a dry cleaning shop in Dayton, Ohio, where he spends his days greeting his customers with his beautiful baritone voice. His friends and neighbors encourage him to sing professionally instead of cleaning clothes. He eventually takes a chance and travels to New York City to be heard by a concert agent and critics, only to find they weren't hearing what he was feeling. The song Mr. Tanner was released in 1973 off Harry Chapin's Short Stories album. The song was inspired by a mediocre review about a baritone singer in The New York Times. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book will go to help support WhyHunger, a charity championed by Harry Chapin himself.
Impressively original, wonderfully entertaining, thoroughly 'kid friendly' for children ages 5 to 7, "Mr. Tanner" is an especially recommended and certain to be an enduringly popular addition to family, elementary school, and community library picture book collections.
From Foreword Reviews, May/June 2017 Issue:
Originally released in 1973 as a music track from singer-songwriter Harry Chapin’s Short Stories album, Mr. Tanner tells the tale of a midwestern dry cleaner with a passion for singing. Adding artwork to lyrics, Bryan Langdo’s cuddly rendition of Mr. Tanner as a baritone bear gives the bittersweet story-song a fanciful twist when he travels to a New York City concert hall but doesn’t get quite the reception he was hoping for, in this soulful journey of self-discovery.
From Kirkus Reviews, March 29, 2017:
One of Chapin’s songs is brought to life in this book about facing criticism.
In a Midwestern town populated by a variety of anthropomorphic animal characters, Mr. Tanner is a baritone bear who joyfully sings in his dry-cleaning shop. His friends and customers encourage him to use his musical gifts professionally. Even though “music was his life, it was not his livelihood,” he lets himself be persuaded to go to New York to perform at Town Hall. He gives it his all onstage but comes away with poor reviews from music critics. Crushed, he goes home, never to sing publicly again. Langdo’s soft-edged watercolor illustrations, many in album-cover–shaped squares, capture the arc of Mr. Tanner’s unfulfilled dreams. The book opens with a bird’s-eye view of a small town and ends with the bear framed by his shop windows, singing to himself. A line of clothes is cleverly hung from a musical staff that winds its way from Dayton to New York. Aside from a few changes, the rhyming text of the book is the same as the original song. A facsimile of the typed lyrics with Chapin’s handwritten corrections is included. Like “Cat’s in the Cradle,” the late singer/songwriter’s best-known work, this story about good intentions going awry has a melancholy air.
There’s inspiration in the refrain: “He didn’t know how well he sang. It just made him whole.”
From Publishers Weekly, March 2017:
The late singer-songwriter Chapin’s 1976 song “Mr. Tanner” gets a picture-book adaptation that softens some of the song’s melancholy, though not much. Inspired by real-life events, it tells of Mr. Tanner, a “cleaner from a town in the Midwest,” who loves to sing but recognizes that although “music was his life, it was not his livelihood.” After friends urge him to “use his gift instead of cleaning coats,” Mr. Tanner hops a plane to New York City and performs at Town Hall, but the reviews are not kind. Langdo (There’s a Cat in Our Class!) portrays Mr. Tanner as a well-dressed brown bear, and his sensitive watercolors draw out the joy Mr. Tanner gets from singing, his shock over the bad review, and its effect on him: after returning home, “he smiled and just said nothing, and he never sang again.” Although closing images of Mr. Tanner singing to himself at his shop temper this outcome somewhat, it’s a somber reminder of the way criticism can get inside an artist’s head.
From Bill Ayres, co-founder of WhyHunger:
Mr. Tanner is one of the late singer/social activist Harry Chapin’s most memorable songs. Bryan Langdo has illustrated the words of the song in a delightful book for children of all ages that focuses on its main message.
I heard Harry’s words and music as I read it and, no, I did not have the music playing, except in my soul.
From Sonny Ochs, Folk DeeJay and sister of the late Phil Ochs:
Mr. Tanner by Harry Chapin and illustrated by Bryan Langdo is a wonderful book which arrives at a subtle definition of happiness.
It follows a man who loves to sing, is persuaded to go out of his comfort zone to sing in public, then ends up back home still singing. It is a great lesson for children.
From Allan Pepper, co-owner of the legendary music venue The Bottom Line in NYC:
Harry Chapin's songs are little novellas that provide new insights with every repetition. Bryan Langdo has turned "Mr. Tanner", one of Harry's landmark songs, into a beautiful illustrated book. His unique illustrations have captured the heart and soul of Chapin's moving ode to living a complete life in a very simple buttextured way.
"Mr. Tanner" is a great way to introduce your child to one of the great storytellers of the 20th century. While you're at it, at gift time, don't forget those parents and grandparents who came of age listening to Harry's wonderful little stories the first time around.
From Martin Tubridy, the inspiration for the song "Mr. Tanner":
I recently had the honor of receiving an advanced copy of the soon to be released Mr. Tanner children's book published by Ripple Grove Press. The book is a beautiful tribute to the famed song “Mr. Tanner” by Harry Chapin. The book is aimed to be read to young children and a way to speak to them about the feelings and meaning of the story. The illustrations by Bryan Langdo are incredibly beautiful and full of feeling. The book is very special and the illustrations are so touching. It will definitely be a winner and will be supporting a great cause. It is a beautiful way to keep a special person's memory very much alive. Part of the proceeds will be directed to WhyHunger, which is the organization Harry Chapin founded with Bill Ayres to address world hunger.
From Jonathan Chapin:
How do we learn about the world, life, and about understanding ourselves better? Well, often times whether it's as kids or as adults it's through storybooks and story songs. Ripple Grove Press's book Mr. Tanner, adopted from Harry Chapin's song "Mr. Tanner", creates the opportunity for dialogue between a parent and a child to discuss topics of values, character, believing in yourself, willingness to give things a try, and to talk about whatever else the conversation may lead to. The line from the chorus of the song, "He sang from his heart and he sang from his soul, he did not know how well he sang it just made him whole," is one launching point to explore how a child recognizes what activities they (the parent and the child) are passionate about. What it is that makes each who they are. What it is that they each may share with others.
In essence, both the song and the book tell the story about finding one's voice (no pun intended), to be yourself, and that you should always thoughtfully be willing to try things and not be scared to fail, because after all that's how we learn. So, enjoy the book and all the life-lessons that it will help you teach your kid!