Friday, May 29, 2009

Grab Bag Friday Movie Vault: The Point

Another rainy day here in Maine...perfect for the Grab Bag Friday Movie Vault.

I can count on my left hand the number of people I've met who are as in love with The Point as I am. My brother is one, and he may not count since he's related. Yes, it's dated. Yes, it's 1971-trippy. But Harry Nilsson's sweet, intelligent story and dreamy music work together so well, they transport you to another world. The Point makes my Top 10 movie list any day of the week.

Now let me hip you to reality. This movie is a must-see. Round-headed Oblio is born in a kingdom where every thing has a point. For a while, his parents try to hide his roundness by giving him a pointy hat to wear, but eventually, poor Oblio is outed in a game of Triangle Toss. He and his dog Arrow are banished to the Pointless Forest, where they meet all kinds of strange and wonderful characters who help Oblio rethink what it means to have a "point."

To this day, I can sing almost all of the songs by heart, and "Are You Sleeping" very nearly made it onto my lullaby album. (I guess it'll have to wait for volume two.) Here is one of my favorites, "Think About Your Troubles." This scene is right after Oblio and Arrow get banished to the Pointless Forest:



And The Rock Man was always one of my favorite characters. I love his opening line. "You been goofing with the bees?" I think my bro and I both went through stages of wanting to be just like The Rock Man when we grew up. I like to think a little of it has stuck. :)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Songwriting for Kids and They Might Be Giants

Well okay, these are two separate news items. But wouldn't it be cool if Songwriting for Kids and They Might Be Giants hooked up? Ah, the stuff dreams are made of...

News item #1 (SFK): The June 1 registration deadline for Songwriting, Fiction, and Poetry Writing for Kids summer workshops is just around the corner! If you're in Maine and you know someone who'd enjoy these classes (they're a blast!), please spread the word.

News item #2 (TMBG): Did you know that They Might Be Giants is going to sponsor 10 Little League Teams? To get *your* team in the running for those cool yellow shirts, go to the TMBG Little League page and scroll to the bottom for application instructions. (Thanks to Zooglobble for the link!)

Hmmm...if my team was named after a cool band, maybe I would have taken a bit more interest in grade school softball. As it was, I just sat (yes, sat!) in right field and thought about how unfair it was that the coach (my dad) wouldn't let me bring my book out there. It's not like we *ever* got a field hit, so I really didn't see what the big deal was. Hmph!

How about you? Any fond (or otherwise) childhood memories of our nation's favorite summer pastime?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Grab Bag Friday: Chickpea Tomato Stew

Cool tomato photo by Darwin Bell.

Here's another yummy recipe from The Six O'Clock Scramble. I've been sending this around to all my siblings because it's easy, healthy, filling, and delicious!

Chickpea Tomato Stew

Serve over Israeli (large grain) couscous. (I've tried it on regular couscous and that's tasty, too.)

2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 shallots, finely chopped (I've also used yellow onions or green onions)
2 tsp. to 1 Tbsp curry powder (depending on how spicy you like it)
1 tsp. ground cumin
15 oz. canned chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
15 oz. diced tomatoes, with their liquid (don't get the kind with the spices mixed in)
1 cup red pasta sauce or tomato sauce
1/4 cup fresh mint and/or oregano, or 3/4 tsp. dried oregano, or to taste (fresh mint is the best!)
1 cup nonfat or low fat sour cream or plain yogurt, for serving (optional)

In a heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté them until they start to brown, 3-4 minutes. (If you are making couscous, start that now.)

Add the curry powder and cumin and cook, stirring, for another minute. Add the chickpeas, tomatoes and pasta sauce (if using dried oregano rather than fresh, add it now, too) and simmer it for about 10 minutes. Remove it from the heat and stir in the fresh mint and/or oregano.

Serve the stew over the couscous, topped with a spoonful of sour cream or yogurt, if desired. For a make-ahead option, you can refrigerate it for up to 3 days, or freeze it for up to 3 months before serving it.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Jason Webley: The Cost of Living

I like to haunt around Neil Gaiman's blog, and a few weeks back, he recommended this musician Jason Webley. I made a note to check him out and then promptly forgot about it. Until this weekend.

I was working on one of those long, pull-your-hair out house projects requiring caulk, paint, and a steady hand. The kind of project I can't get through without music. But not just any music. For this task, I needed something with Ramones-style energy (to out my frustrations), but Andrew Bird-style beauty and drama (to stay my concentration). I stared blankly at my Rhapsody playlist for a while, and then decided to check out this guy Neil Gaiman likes so much.

Thank you, Jason Webley (and thank you, Mr. Gaiman) for seeing me through. I listened to The Cost of Living three times back to back, and I even mananged to do a decent job with the caulking.

I love the song Clear, which doesn't seem to be up on YouTube or any of the usual places you can listen to for free. But here is a clip (which, of course, too short to do it any justice at all):



Neil Gaiman posted Almost Time on his journal.

Now, when I was looking up Jason Webley songs on YouTube, I noticed that he often plays solo. Which is cool, but I was curious to see how he would deal with a song like There's Not a Step We Can Take That Does Not Bring Us Closer, which, on the album, has these great violin and trombone sections.

Well, here's how he deals with it. Heheh. I like it:

Monday, May 18, 2009

Hip Hip Hooray! Fuse #8 Top 100 Picture Books Poll

Three cheers for Betsy Bird at Fuse #8! The final Top 100 Picture Books Poll list has been meticulously and lovingly compiled, complete with bibliography (Ms. Bird is a librarian by day, after all!)

Well, I did okay on my guesses about which books would end up in the Top Ten. 7 out of 10 isn't bad. What were my downfalls?

1. Who could have guessed that The Carrot Seed wouldn't make it onto the list at all? My mother would be appalled.

2. I swear, I've never even heard of Millions of Cats which snuck into 9th place.

3. I completely underestimated Mo Willems, who took two, count 'em, two! spots in the top ten with Knuffle Bunny and Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.
Now, before you view the list and get all worked up that The Cat In the Hat doesn't show up, please keep in mind that this was a readers poll for picture books only. No easy readers allowed. With that little caveat out of the way....go, peruse, enjoy!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Grab Bag Friday: Looking for a Song about Love, Money, and Friends Who Move Away

Every once in a while, on author Cynthia Lord's journal, she'll post some of the funny search engine keywords that bring people to her website. Just for fun, I checked out what words people type in that bring them to my Songwriting for Kids pages. Here are a few of the gems:

good song for when a friend moves away (This search shows up in many different forms, and I totally understand. It was a huge theme in my life when I was a kid. Other favorite versions of this are sad songs if ur friend moved away and my friend moved what song should i listen to)

a song some one wrote it in words

a song someone wrote and needs someone to sing it

a song that describes you like someone but in love with someone else (ouch!)

any songs with mackenzie in it? (I *still* get excited when I find a song with Josephine in it!)

enter a contest where you have to type in all the lyrics to hannah montana (Oh my gosh, *is* there such a contest? I know a few girls who would be tough contenders.)

have to courage in singing a solo (Oh, sweetie. I *wish* I could give out courage on my website.)

how to write a hit song at the age of nine

how much money does a hit song earn? (another extremely popular search!)

i think i have a hit song

i wrote a song now what

im 12 years old and i need a love song (love songs, as you can imagine, are a popular search item as well)

looking for that song about i dont need love, i need money (combining two of the hit themes here...)

need to make money age 9 (This kid should hook up with the age nine trying to write a hit song!)

song about grapes for kids (huh?)

write 10 folk songs from the computer (What a mission!)

Happy weekend everyone!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What Did You Love About Your Elementary School?

This year, I've been having a *lot* of fun working with the fourth and fifth graders in the Williams-Cone Elementary School Special Chorus. Our task was to create a song that the whole school could sing and enjoy.

Well, are you ready for it? Drumroll....here it is: My School.

The first couple days I visited the school, we had some brainstorming sessions about the things that are important to daily life at Williams-Cone. Of course, recess was huge, and we built our entire bridge around that. But what I thought was nice were the small details that came out. The little things you look forward to, that add up to make your day a really great one.

What did you love about your grade school? Here are a few of the things the kids from Williams-Cone look forward to every day:

  • Breathing in the smell of clay and feeling it squish through your fingers
  • Seeing your own artwork on the hall walls
  • Listening to the principal whistle a song
  • Making a "listening flower" (in music class, they all lay down in a circle with their feet touching in the middle and listen very carefully...cool!)
  • Knowing the answer to a math question
  • Going back to the "kids" section of the library and finding a favorite book from Kindergarten
  • Contributing to the unrestrained *noise* in the lunchroom!
It's funny how these details stick with us. I remember distinctly my favorite corners of my elementary school library (the musty one with a whole shelf and a half of the Old Mother West Wind books, and the dark, far corner where you could tuck yourself away and secretly read the "bad" Judy Blume books). When you think about it, these little, constant things often shape who we are just as much as the big dramatic ones. I'm glad the Williams-Cone students have such fun and creative details in their lives!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Grab Bag Friday: Mouse Was Mad Contest

I am so so so excited because Linda Urban's new picture book, Mouse Was Mad, came out this week! I haven't seen it yet (that's my weekend treat to myself), but her quirky middle grade novel, A Crooked Kind of Perfect, was one the most enjoyable kids books of the decade. I'm not exaggerating.

Anyway, to celebrate the publication, Ms. Urban is having a mad contest over at her blog, Crooked Perfect. Just leave her a comment telling her

  1. what makes you mad, and
  2. your favorite way to feel better
and she'll send the lucky winner a signed copy of the book *and* a box of delicious-looking truffles.

I couldn't wait to jump right on it, but then I ran into a problem. As many of you know, there is not a lot that can make me mad. Not real, hopping, smoke-out-the-ears mad. My default is the whole "well that's out of my control" or "you never know what that person is going through" or "who cares?" stuff that drives my husband crazy. Every once in a while, he'll say to me in a fury, "It's okay to be mad, you know! Don't you ever just want to be mad?"

Since I really want to win this book, I had to dig deep. I can think of three instances over the years where I have been red-hot:

1. Pure, animal mad. Flashback to the eighties. I was eleven or twelve (in my permed ponytail and lip smackers gloss, no doubt) babysitting my three younger siblings.
What made me mad?
My brother wouldn't go to bed. I lost it. Really lost it. I tried to order, beg, threaten. Instead, he started to kick.
What did I do to feel better?
I bit him. Hard. On the leg. At the moment, it felt good. I got even. But the swollen bruise that formed over the week was hideous and the guilt I felt for *years* was even worse. Oh, he went to bed, though.

2. Sick to my stomach mad. In high school, we had dress-up days during Homecoming Week. You know, Pajama Day, '60s Day, all that good stuff.
What made me mad?
On Color Day, one of my classmates came to school in a KKK costume. Not just that, he won first prize in the student choice awards. Not just that, the principal handed him the award. SERIOUSLY.
What did I do to feel better? Writer and confrontation-avoider that I am, I wrote a letter to the school newspaper. The teacher who ran the paper wouldn't print it, but she "thought it was a good letter" and took the liberty to send it to the county paper. Let's just say there were repercussions until I graduated, but I have always been glad I wrote that letter.
This one still makes me mad.

3. Fighting mad. These days, there is one thing that can consistently get me riled.
What makes me mad? When I come across a parent or a teacher who writes off a child. You know the kind. A kid doesn't "fit in" or have the same skill set as other kids or doesn't come from the right family and the adult (who should know better) assumes they are "stupid" or a "loser" or "will never amount to anything." I grew up around a lot of these kinds of adults (thankfully, not my parents, who are the exact opposite of this) and I see them in my day-to-day life, and they make me mad, mad, mad!
What do I do to feel better?
I work harder. I teach workshops and music lessons and sing and write for kids. I try to help every kid I interact with know that they have something to offer to the world. Because they do. Every one. If they have negative adults in their life, I know I can't fix it. But if I can make a difference with one. Cancel out one voice in the crowd. Well, that's something.

I guess the take away is that for me, doing something about it is what makes me less mad. How about you?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Clash: Should I Stay or Should I Go

Last week, on Music Wednesday, I posted a couple sweet classic songs from the '40s. As Monty Python would say...And now, for something completely different...

Recently, I've been working on a novel in which one of the characters is a little obsessed with Joe Strummer from The Clash. So I've been perusing YouTube a bit for classic punk rock, and here are a couple treats.

Here's a live version of Should I Stay or Should I Go, one of the most popular "mainstream" songs by The Clash. I love the goofy dancing, I have to say:



This Lifetimes documentary is a hoot. I love the girl who says:

"I don't know why I like them. That's why I like them. You don't have to know everything."
Brilliant. I might have to steal that for my book. :)

Monday, May 4, 2009

Top 100 Picture Books Poll Results

Here's an intriguing question: What are your Top 10 picture books of all time?

Earlier this spring, one of my favorite bloggers (Fuse #8 over at School Library Journal) asked her readers to send in their top 10 picture books. She compiled the results in a painstaking, weighted process (a person's #1 choice got more points than their #2, etc.), compiled a readers-choice Top 100 Picture Books list, and she's been doling out the results in highly entertaining posts over the last month or so.

Well, we've hit the Top 10, and if you've missed the series so far, now is the time to join in! Over the next two weeks, Fuse #8 will be posting about each of the Top 10 winners, counting up to the coveted #1 postition. Today was #10: Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems.

I made my guesses last week, and I'm already wrong! Here are the books I thought would win the Top 10 spots (in no particular order). In my defense, I voted *before* Ferdinand was posted, and he turned out to be #11. Still, had I known, I probably wouldn't have predicted Knuffle Bunny. My predictions:

Of course, this list of predictions (while I love all those books) is much different than the original list of my favorites that I sent in at the beginning of the process:
  1. When the Sun Rose by Barbara Helen Berger (a sleeper, but my all-time favorite...here's my review)
  2. The Arrival by Shaun Tan (here's my review...it made #67 on the Fuse #8 Top 100)
  3. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (my review)
  4. Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney (came in #19 on the Fuse #8 Top 100)
  5. Many Moons by James Thurber (my review)
  6. The Wall by Peter Sis (my review)
  7. Charlie Parker Played Be Bop Chris Raschka (my review)
  8. Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges (my review)
  9. The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka (came in #14 on the Fuse #8 Top 100)
  10. Imogene's Antlers by David Small
For me, any list of favorites is so subjective and changeable. I'd probably give you a slightly different list every day, depending on my mood.

How about you? What would make your Top 10? Or what would you predict to see there?

Friday, May 1, 2009

Grab Bag Friday: Fine Gardening

Happy May Day!

It's a grey, rainy day here in Maine, but that is great news for my garden. I have tulips and daffodils getting ready to bloom, lupines and primroses spreading like crazy, and my crab apple tree is covered with tiny little buds just waiting to burst. A nice May shower will do them all good!

On dreary spring days, I love to head over and peruse the inexhaustible gardening tips at Fine Gardening. Here are a few little gems I stumbled upon this morning:

What are you planting this year?

(Photo by Vince Alongi)