Jackie Pappas wants her two sons to keep reaching for the stars.
The Americana singer-songwriter shares that wish with 10-year-old Hank and 8-year-old Gus in her new children’s book, Taste the Stars.
Published via Bow’s Bookshelf, the lush, immersive picture book features vibrant watercolor illustrations from artist Toni Hines and includes lyrical prose from Pappas’ latest single of the same name.
“In my early 20s, I was pursuing music, and my husband and I were like, ‘We want a family,’ and we had the kids, and I got engulfed with being pregnant,” said Pappas, who’s from Goodrich, Michigan.
“I kinda put my guitar up and was like, ‘I’m giving it up,’ but I never wanted to. I didn’t play for a couple of years … at the time Gus was one and Hank was three.”
While enjoying motherhood, Pappas couldn’t ignore the call of music from her back porch seven years ago. She picked up her guitar and started strumming as Hank and Gus took a nap.
“I was watching them, and I was thinking of my childhood,” said Pappas, who’s the youngest of five children. “No parents are perfect by all means … but I feel like my parents’ generation was a little harder and a little blacker and whiter in a sense.”
With that thought in mind, Pappas started penning “Taste the Stars” as a reassuring lullaby about dreams, self-determination and authenticity to her sons. It also unexpectedly became a personal anthem for her ambitions.
“It’s something I think I was never told growing up and something that I wished my parents would have said to me. I was like, ‘I’m gonna say everything that I wished my parents would have said to me to them.’ I don’t want my parents to feel bad … because they did believe in us in their own way,” she said.
“I remember writing and the first few lines came out, and I just started crying. I was like, ‘Maybe this is right,’ and I just wrote it. And it was the first song I wrote coming back to music.”
Throughout “Taste the Stars,” contemplative Spanish guitar and affectionate acoustic guitar embrace Pappas as she sings, “Always know how big this world is / Never feel too small / When the water’s getting rough / When you feel like you’ve had enough / Don’t be afraid to dance in the dark / And taste the stars.”
“It was a slow transition to wanting to do music again, and I remember telling my husband, ‘I want to do this; I only get one life … I wanna try it,’” she said. “It was a good message for me, too.”
By spring 2022, Pappas recorded “Taste the Stars” with Berkley producer-engineer-guitar Jim Rawlings and multi-instrumentalist Aaron Markovitz. She had previously worked with both collaborators on her self-titled debut EP in 2020.
“We just did guitar, and of course, Aaron’s like a magician on that,” said Pappas, who released the track in September and commissioned Hines to do the single artwork. “What a gift!”
Pappas also brought “Taste the Stars” to life in a tranquil video filmed and edited by Erica Kratt Photography last summer. It features Pappas in a long white dress strumming guitar while Hank and Gus frolic with Kratt’s children in a field near Goodrich.
“I thought it would be sweeter to have a couple more kids in the video. They’re so cute, and they’re such good kids,” she said. “That video worked out really well, and we had just bought some property. My husband mowed some paths on it, and I love going out there.”
After releasing the single and the video, Pappas realized “Taste the Stars” would make a compelling children’s book and asked Hines to illustrate it.
“Toni was sending me all this stuff, and then all of a sudden, she stopped what she was doing and just sent me this whole new thing,” Pappas said. “She said, ‘This is it. It just came to me.’ And I said, ‘That’s perfect … would you be interested in doing a kid’s book?’”
Not long after commissioning Hines as the book’s illustrator, Pappas met Anna Stileski, a children’s book publisher from Bow’s Bookshelf, at a networking event in Clarkston.
That partnership soon led to Taste the Stars being published and released as a hardcover and paperback on May 2. To celebrate the book’s release, Pappas is hosting a launch party on May 13 at Clarkston’s Essence on Main.
The event will include crafts for kids, food and drink samples, and a book signing and performance with Pappas.
“I’ll sing the song, and the kids can read along while I sing it,” said Pappas, whose book is available at Essence on Main and online at Bow’s Bookshelf and Amazon.
Pappas also plans to turn additional songs into children’s books, including ones about a dandelion and a bug, and partner with Hines on the illustrations.
“It’s definitely like a little series that’s coming out,” she said. “Toni’s really cool, and she’s just easy to work with.”
Outside of children’s books, Pappas is releasing a new single called “Fall of the Jester” this summer and recording a Greek mythology concept EP with producer Caleb Sanchez.
The EP will include songs about Apollo, Orpheus, Zeus and Leto inspired by Pappas’ personal experiences and reflections about life.
“That’s what we’re gonna do all through the summer, so I’m really hoping it’s done by fall,” she said. “I want to do a tour, and I really have a vision to put that together.”
Taste the Stars by Jackie Pappas – Book Launch Party
Saturday, May 13 | 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Essence on Main, 4 S. Main St. in Clarkston