David Bowie influenced many aspects of culture in his career. He had strong ties to science fiction and fantasy and was an avid reader. He played with gender fluidity and created many characters with their own stories. His work explored the fringes and many people who felt like outcasts found a strong connection in his music. So to honor his life and remember his career I've selected some books that remind me of his work and explore similar themes.
My introduction to David Bowie was as the Goblin King in the 1986 Jim Henson movie The Labyrinth. My sister and I loved this movie and would act out the parts and sing the songs often when we were children. If you're looking for more goblin adventures, try Goblin Secrets by William Alexander or the Goblins in the Castle series by Bruce Coville.
David Bowie introduced generations of people to the idea of gender fluidity. At a time when people were often persecuted for straying from rigid gender roles, David Bowie gave visibility to those who didn't fit into neat boxes. He inspired many people to show the world their true face. To learn more about how gender has affected modern teens who identify as transgender or gender neutral, read Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin. You can see David Bowie's exploration of gender in his music video for "Boys Keep Swinging" which features him in various drag outfits. At the end he takes off his wigs and smears his lipstick in a now iconic gesture.
David Bowie's influence has reached far and wide, even into outer space. In the video below astronaut Chris Hadfield records a version of Space Oddity on the international space station. For another look at outer space and isolation closer to home try Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil. This Australian import is about a group of misfits who love science fiction movies and video games. They don't live in outer space, but as far as the rest of the school is concerned they might as well. All this changes though when someone new comes to town. For humor, heart, and fun geeky references check this book out.
In "Let's Dance" Bowie suggests that you "put on your red shoes and dance the blues." A sentiment the main character of This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales would surely understand. Elsie has never found it easy to make friends and when her plan to finally blend in at school fails she begins sneaking out at night to wander the streets and contemplate her life. Everything changes when she stumbles across a secret, underground dance club. There she finally learns how to let it all out in a dance, but it's her introduction to the DJ that really sparks something in her. Soon she's thrown herself into mastering the art of playing music while her life continues to unravel around her.
David Bowie filmed the video for "Let's Dance" in a remote community in Australia to highlight the plight of ingenious peoples there. You can find more information about the filming of the video and its political impact over at The Guardian. As a bonus, check out the brilliant comic Lost and Found by Shaun Tan which includes an allegory for Australian colonial history and its effect on indigenous peoples.
My two favorite superhero comics out right now feature Kamala Khan, a Muslim Pakistani-American from New Jersey, as Ms. Marvel and Miles Morales, a Black Hispanic teenager, as Spider-Man. Both characters are charming and inspiring and provide a great adventure story first and foremost. They also provide some much-needed diversity to the Marvel lineup. David Bowie was a known champion of diversity in the music industry and famously asked MTV in its early days why they weren't highlighting Black artists. You can read more about that at the Washington Post.
The holiday season is over now, but I still love this duet by Bing Crosby and David Bowie. It was recorded shortly before Bing Crosby's death and almost didn't happen because Bowie reportedly hated "The Little Drummer Boy." So right before they were set to record, a group of composers and producers wrote the "Peace on Earth" lyrics and set it to a counter melody. I think it turned out beautifully and that Bing and Bowie pull it off with so little rehearsal is a testament to their talent. (Read more about the recording here.) For a darker look at peace on earth try reading The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow. Set in a future where a renegade AI has taken over the world's weapons and began blowing up cities until countries agree to peace. Now leaders in charge of war decisions are required to send their children to be hostages. Countries can declare war, but if they do the hostages are killed. This has eliminated conflicts for small matters, but leaves the "children of peace" in a precarious position. Princess Greta has been living as a hostage since she was five and she learned to live within the system and was willing to die for the cause, until a new hostage comes along and changes everything.