Ziggy Marley on 'Getting to Know' His Kids 'as Human Beings' During Pandemic and His Picture Books

Ziggy Marley talks to PEOPLE about how time with his younger kids inspired his new picture books Little John Crow and My Dog Romeo

Ziggy Marley with his wife and three of his younger kids. Photo: Gregg DeGuire/WireImage

Ziggy Marley first started writing for children when he and the Melody Makers released the Arthur theme song "Believe in Yourself" in 1996. Now, he's even more focused on inspiring kids through his words.

In an interview with PEOPLE, the reggae star talks about his latest picture books Little John Crow, published Tuesday, and My Dog Romeo, which was released in July. He also discusses how he's been "getting to know" his children better and reconnecting with nature during the pandemic.

"I'm inspired to create for children right now," says Marley, 53, who wanted to write for kids after spending so much time with his own family during lockdown. "I'm just following my creative energy and it's leading me to where the children [are], so that's where I'm headed."

Little John Crow is full of energy and color. Co-written by Marley and his wife Orly, the story follows a young vulture named Little John Crow who is abandoned by his animal friends after they realize he is a natural-born scavenger. Eventually, both the vulture and his community come to realize the value he brings to Bull Bay. He arrives back home just in time to save it. (Little John Crow is illustrated by Gordon Rowe.)

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courtesy Amazon

Ziggy says the story was inspired by the turkey vultures, known as John Crow in Jamaica, that would gather in a field near his house when he was growing up. He used to think of them as "dirty and nasty" until he understood their purpose in the ecosystem.

"If they weren't cleaning up, then we would have a lot more disease and a lot more sickness in the world, so I came to appreciate them," says Ziggy, who is the son of the reggae icon Bob Marley. Both he and Orly want to teach young readers to recognize their own value, no matter their differences.

"It is important that children coming up be able to be themselves and to not be afraid of that," says Ziggy. "Also, to understand that the people who truly love them will accept them for who they are. I think it's important that kids understand that message."

The artist explains that he often works on projects with Orly, with whom he shares sons Isaiah Sion Robert Nesta, 5, Abraham Selassie Robert Nesta, 10, and Gideon Robert Nesta, 14, plus daughter Judah Victoria, 16. (Ziggy is also dad to three adult children — daughters Zuri and Justice, plus son Daniel — from previous relationships.)

Little John Crow was no different.

"Me and my wife do everything together. We are a team, you know? So it wasn't anything out of normal," says Ziggy of the joint writing process, explaining that Orly used to work in education. "Any group of children or a child, she has a knack of speaking to them... So her input is very important."

He also asked for his kids' insight. They "love" the story, he says. "They're involved. They're a part of my inspiration."

The Marley clan also enjoy their dad's previously released book, My Dog Romeo, which was inspired by their new dog. (The book, illustrated by Ag Jatkowska, draws from Ziggy's kids' song of the same name.)

"This book is in tribute to my dog. I'm sharing that joy of the love of a pet with others," says Ziggy. "But I would say that, in today's society, a lot of kids are not getting that full experience of being around animals, being around other types of creatures."

Ziggy says he didn't write My Dog Romeo with a "big message" in mind, but he does hope the book will help readers rediscover "a connection to nature."

courtesy Amazon

"It's about finding that connection with living things, other living things, and not just electronic things or inanimate things, but real life," he says.

Ziggy and Orly's kids got a dose of real-life responsibility after they brought home their new puppy Romeo just before the start of the pandemic.

"My older daughter, she named it Romeo and they were very excited. But I don't think they understood the responsibility," Ziggy explains. "They like the idea about having a pet, but they didn't understand the responsibility of taking care of a dog. It's a big responsibility. And so we are [going on] about, 'You wanted a dog. Here's a dog, so you got to feed him'... So they're learning."

Ziggy has been enjoying time with his family — and the chance to fully get to know his kids since he hasn't been on tour.

"It's the most time we've spent together as a family, ever," he explains.

"Me, as a parent, it's the first kind of chance for me to get to know my kids more than I did before," says Ziggy. "I would never have had this experience with them if it wasn't for the pandemic, right? So we took the pandemic and found positive things in it.

"The positive thing I've found was that I learned so much about these kids, not just as my children, but as human beings: Their character, who they are," he continues. "We learned from each other by spending so much time with them. We take that as a blessing."

Little John Crow and My Dog Romeo are on sale now.

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