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'Bono: Rock Star Activist' by Martha Trachtenberg

A Book Response

@U2, April 23, 2008
By: Madeline Calhoun (with Scott Calhoun)


Madeline took the assignment of helping her dad review this new book about Bono for @U2. She is in the second grade and regularly writes book responses for her teacher, Mrs. Pitzer. In addition to being an avid reader, Madeline is a U2 fan and hopes to go to a concert some day. (Maybe next tour, Madeline?) Her favorite U2 song is "Beautiful Day."

The elementary school library has shelves full of books waiting to be explored by young readers. There are books with mysteries, fairies, adventures, biographies, science, animals, and more. Some are fables; some are true; and some are for teaching you things. So read this response and discover the biography of a "rock star with a conscience" named Bono. His story is now one of 14 in the "People to Know Today" series. These books have introduced young readers to leading cultural figures such as Sam Walton, Dorothea Lange, Bill Gates, Dr. Phil, Walt Disney, Hillary Clinton and Lance Armstrong. (There's another series called just "People to Know," which has 16 more biographies.) The author of Bono's biography told us in an e-mail that this book is aimed at grammar school children who head to the reference section in the library when they have to write a report about a famous person.

I read Bono: Rock Star Activist, and here are some things I learned about him. Bono is a rock star who sings in U2. People usually call him the head leader because he is in the front of the band. U2 is a band that travels around the world to different theaters to perform music. One of the band mates invited Bono to be in his band when they were in high school together. He was called Larry Mullen and he was the drum player in U2. When the band got started they tried to make a "demo," which is short for demonstration, which didn't work out so good. But they learned a lot and later people started to like U2. The other band mates are the Edge and Adam Clayton. Edge plays the guitar and Adam plays the bass.

Bono's real name is Paul David Hewson, and his birthday is May 10, 1960. When he was little and his family moved to a new house, Paul cried almost every day, so his parents took him to the doctor and he said that he was fine. But then when he was a grown-up, he went in again to the doctors and they said he had an eccentric heart. That means his heart was curious and different from other people's hearts. Also, when he was 3 years old he would pick up a lot of bees and never get stung.

His dad, Bobby, was a Catholic, and his mom, Iris, was a Protestant. When a Catholic wanted to marry a Protestant in Ireland, they had to seek permission from the Pope in Rome. If the Pope said yes, the church would be darkened and have no flowers or decorations to show the Church's disapproval. So Bobby thought about it and he wanted to have a joyful wedding, so they went to the Protestant church to get married. Then later a Catholic priest blessed their marriage.

On August 21, 1982, Bono married his girlfriend Alison Stewart. They now have four kids. Before he was called Bono, he had a school club with some classmates and he gave himself a nickname. "The Spider" was his nickname and he said that the girls were "The Flies." How Bono got his next nickname was from a hearing aid store called Bonavox Hearing Aids. His friend Guggi gave him the nickname Bono Vox at first. Soon Bono Vox became Bono. In 1993, Bono performed as Mister MacPhisto on stage, which was another nickname he used for a while.

On August 21, 2001, Bono's dad Bobby died of cancer. The funeral was on August 24, three days later. Bono made up a song called "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own" just for his dad and sung it with the Edge at the funeral.

Bono is an activist because he wants to help people in Africa with HIV/AIDS. He gets the Gap store to help him by selling Product Red merchandise. Half of those profits will be used to help people with HIV/AIDS in Africa. He gets other people to use their money to go buy Gap and Red Products too, and to go and help in Africa. He has helped with big concerts to raise money for Africa, and he helps his wife, Ali, get people to buy clothes from the brand she started called Edun.

Some of the chapter titles in this book are "A Rock Star is Born" (Chapter 5), "Reconciling Rock and Religion" (Chapter 9), "Life in a Zoo" (Chapter 12), "Working Toward a Better World" (Chapter 13) and "The Constant Charmer" (Chapter 17). In Chapter 17, Bono said he worries about embarrassing his band mates and the audience by preaching on stage, but he thinks it is the right thing to do.

This book also has explanations for kids on topics such as "The Catholic and Protestant Conflict in Ireland" and the Irish education system, and interviews with people on these subjects: how to become a music manager; how to become a recording engineer or producer; and how to become a sound technician. There's a chronology of Bono's life in the back and suggestions for other books to read.

The book was great and you should check out some other books by "People to Know Today." I really liked it because I really like listening to U2 music and so do my parents. We have almost all the CDs. This is the first book about Bono for kids that we can enjoy. Biographies are really good because they help you think about the person and how the person lived.

This book sells for $23.95 (hardback) at, and is also available through bookstores and online booksellers.

We wanted to find out about the author, Martha Trachtenberg, so we e-mailed her some questions. We learned that she is a freelance copy editor, researcher, proofreader, and writer, and that she's also a singer/songwriter and part of the quartet Return to the Dream. She got to write a book about Bono by picking his name off a list her editor wanted people to write biographies about.

How did you get the information for this book?

I used a variety of sources. There are many, many books available on Bono and U2, and I drew on them, trying to quote Bono directly whenever possible, rather than using another writer's opinion of what he meant to say. I also did research online and at my library, finding articles that appeared in newspapers and magazines. Last but far from least, I made use of U2's official Web site, If you look in the back of the book, in the section titled "Chapter Notes," you'll see the list of publications and Web sites that I used.

Was this book personally made for kids?

Absolutely! This is part of a series called "People to Know Today," and the idea is to introduce kids to people who are outstanding role models. Bono definitely qualifies.

How long did it take you to write this book?

It took about two years, mostly because I wasn't working on it full-time. I'm also a professional musician, a freelance copy editor, a researcher for other writers, and a proud mother.

Have you written any other books?

I've written one other book, for the "People to Know" series, on science fiction writer Anne McCaffrey. I had a ball doing it, as I wound up in almost daily contact with Anne via e-mail (she lives in Ireland). I'd been her fan and her copy editor for years, and by the time the book was done I was thrilled to be able to call her my friend. She was endlessly generous with her time and encouragement as I struggled with my first book.

Did you ever meet Bono in real life?

Alas, no. Despite repeated attempts to contact him through his record label, his publicist, and his manager's office in Ireland, I was unable to reach him at all.

Did Bono tell you some things to write in this book?

No, and that's really why I tried so hard to get through to him. I wanted to get a brief quote aimed solely at the kids reading the book. He's an eloquent man, and I was hoping he would contribute something inspiring. As it is, I hope that my depiction of his life and accomplishments did the job anyway. You'll have to tell me.

What was your favorite thing you learned about Bono?

Very good question. I'd have to say that it's his determination to use his celebrity status and power with the press to do some good in the world. He's not waiting for other people to do the work, to make a difference, and he's not just staying home and throwing money at the problems. For years now, he's been steadily giving his time and energy to benefit others -- it isn't a passing fancy or a rich man's hobby. I enjoy his music to no end, but it's his good heart that touches me the most.

© @U2/Calhoun, 2008.

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