Monday, March 31, 2008

Christopher Paul Curtis at Powells

I came across a treasure trove of author interviews over at, including a great interview from 2000 with Christopher Paul Curtis, author of the recent Newbery Honor Book, Elijah of Buxton. In the interview, Mr. Curtis talks about how he began writing, factory work, his early work, his favorite authors, and his fear of becoming a country music fan.

Just a *small* sampling of other Powell's interviews I'm looking forward to perusing:

Friday, March 28, 2008

Grab Bag Friday Movie Vault: The Court Jester

(Fair Warning: Hyperbole will follow.) I was browsing over at Educating Alice, and she posted this clip from the 1955 Danny Kaye movie, The Court Jester. My family and I used to laugh ourselves to tears watching this movie. And I still hold that it is one of the most hysterical comedies of all time. And that Danny Kaye is perhaps the most hilarious comic of all time. That's right. Of all time. :)

Now, some of you who know me may argue that I have a somewhat, oh shall we say, specific sense of humor, but that's a discussion for another day...

Here's my family's beloved "Brew that is True" scene and some fun trivia about The Court Jester from IMDB:

  • Unimpressed with him in tights, producers of the film made Danny Kaye wear 'leg falsies' to improve the shape of his legs. This adds a touch of irony when Hubert Hawkins offers the princess all of him, including his legs and calves.

  • Danny Kaye's daughter, Dena Kaye, said for the rest of his life, when people recognized Danny in a restaurant, they would walk up and spout the entire "brew that is true" speech.

  • Basil Rathbone was a world-class fencer and it was due to his efforts that the hilarious fencing scene was filmed without injury. He later admitted that several times he was almost skewered by Danny Kaye's sword.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Songwriting for Kids 1-2-3

Here's the lastest 1-2-3 from Songwriting for Kids:

1. 2008 Summer Program information and registration is here! Explore your creativity at a week-long songwriting workshop (entering grades K-3) or fiction writing workshop (entering grades 4-6). You can also stop by the Listening Room to hear songs from last year's workshops.

2. Oksana (age 6) wrote a hit song! Oksana, from Great Falls, Virginia, is our newest I Wrote a Hit Song! Contest winner. Please visit her song page to read the lyrics and comment on her sweet song: Since My Friend Moved Away. You can find information on how to submit your own song here (ages 12 & under only, please).

3. Songwriting for Kids Club is moving to a quarterly format. The Spring newsletter is now up with a new Songwriting Challenge and a new quiz. And of course, feel free to browse any of the previous Songwriting Challenges, and use the ideas to enter your song in the I Wrote a Hit Song! Contest.

Always leave 'em singing...

Monday, March 24, 2008

August Kleinzahler: Land's End

This morning, early spring sunshine filled up our whole kitchen. Though we are in snow-covered Maine, and nowhere near heat or eucalyptus trees, it reminded me of the opening poem from August Kleinzahler's collection, Red Sauce, Whiskey, and Snow:

Land's End
by August Kleinzahler

This air,
you say, feels as if it hasn't touched land
for a thousand miles

as surf sound washes through scrub
and eucalyptus,
whether ocean or wind in the trees

or both: the park's big windmill
turning overhead
while joggers circle the ball field

only a few yards off
this path secreted in growth and mist,
the feel of a long narrow theater set

about it here on the park's western edge
just in from the highway
then the moody swells of the Pacific.

The way the chill goes out of us
and the sweat comes up
as we drive back into the heat

and how I need to take you
to all the special places, or show
you where the fog rolls down

and breaks apart in these hills or where
that gorgeous little piano bridge
comes halfway through the song,

because when what has become dormant,
meager or hardened
passes through the electric

of you, the fugitive scattered pieces
are called back to their nature--
light pouring through muslin

in a strange, bare room.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Grab Bag Friday: Obama's Speech on Race

I know clips of this have been all over the news this week, but if you haven't yet seen or read it in its entirety, it is *worth* taking some time out of your day for.

Full text of Obama's Speech on Race

Full video of the speech (thanks to my brother for the YouTube link):

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

March Madness: KidVid Tournament 2008

Woohoo! It's time for Zooglobble's annual March Madness KidVid Tournament! I *love* this tournament. Here's the official sum-up from the Zooglobble site:

It is time once again for the KidVid Tournament, the 2008 edition, where families come together by watching videos the way they were meant to be watched.

On the computer.

Over the next 2+ weeks, we'll be pitting 16 of the best kids' music videos from the past year or so head-to-head with readers voting to determine the best video of the year.

Here is where you can find:

The Bracket

Contest One: Orange Sherbet vs. Eric Herman (It looks like voting is already closed on this one, but that shouldn't stop you from watching and choosing your favorite in anticipation of the next round.)

Contest Two: David Tobacman vs. Ellen & Matt

There will be a new match-up or two every day until the ultimate video prevails. Have fun playing kingmaker!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Jane Yolen: Not One Damsel in Distress

I was recently browsing our library to see which Jane Yolen books I haven't read yet (and belive me, there are plenty...just glance at this list). Whether it is a picture book, young adult, or adult novel, I can always count on Jane Yolen for a good yarn, a tale with some adventure and a nice solid plot. Her retellings of traditional stories (her picture book about Tam Lin, or adult retelling of Briar Rose, for instance) are especially interesting to me. So I was thoroughly pleased to come across Not One Damsel in Distress: World Folktales for Strong Girls.

The folktales Jane Yolen chooses to retell in Not One Damsel feature*lots* of heroes. Knights, pirates, wizards, dragon-slayers, Native American warriors. And each and every one of these heroes are girls. Bright, wise, brave, adventurous girls who overcome obstacles with their wit, brawn, magic, and love.

In the introduction, "Open Letter to My Daughters and Granddaughters," Yolen writes:

This book is for you because the stories were there not only in folk traditions and in folklore waiting to be discovered, but in history, as well. For, once upon a real time, there were actual young women who, sometimes in full disguise--and sometimes no disguise at all--went off to do battle....
And in the last words of the book, she writes:
But this book is for you because it is important to know that anyone can be a hero if they have to be. Even girls.
Especially girls.
Especially you.
This is a great book to have on hand for girls (and boys) of all ages. A bit of fair warning, though. This is no book for the faint-hearted. There are real battles with real blood and guts and truly scary moments. Like the folktales people used to tell before we polished and prettied them up (does anyone remember the ending to the real Little Mermaid any more?) This book isn't always pretty. But it's brave and strong and exciting, which is sometimes better.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Grab Bag Friday Movie Vault: Charade

Since I brought up the classic Audrey Hepburn/Cary Grant movie Charade, now I'm dying to see it again. This is one of those great films that is deliciously dated but never grows old. A mystery with plenty of intense suspense and drama, that manages to be light and funny and romantic at the same time.

One of the reasons I love old movies is because they unfold slowly, so you get to soak it in and take your time enjoying everything about it. Even with all the nail-biting suspense (and yes, I jump out of my chair at least once every time I watch it...Walter Mathau is *such* a creepy villain!), Charade has perfect, quiet, funny moments between Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn (like the one below).

And the 60's spy-classic feel of this film is worth it all. The "aha" moment at the end is just as cheesy and charming and enjoyable as the Henri Mancini music, the credit animation, and Audrey Hepburn's goofy grin when she exclaims "Marriage license?!" (one of my favorite movie endings of all time). I love this movie so much, I haven't been able to bring myself to watch the remake yet...has anyone out there seen it yet?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Edie Brickell & Harper Simon: The Heavy Circles

Last week I mentioned that the Edie Brickell/Harper Simon collaboration, The Heavy Circles, is finally out. Here are a few more details for you:

There's an interesting interview on Morning Edition with both Harper Simon and Edie Brickell. It's fascinating to hear them talk about their songwriting process, which basically consists of Simon playing guitar riffs and Brickell imagining the images the music invokes and just singing the lyrics that pop into her head.

I was glad to hear songs like Dynamite Child, on this album, which is probably my favorite on the disc. It's a little more rocking, which allows Edie Brickell to really let loose on the vocals. Some of my favorite songs from her early work with the New Bohemians were the songs that had an edge, and I missed that in the solo albums Volcano and Picture Perfect Morning (though I still love them).

Other highlights include the peppy, feel-good Better, and the quirky 60's-tinged (something about it reminds me of Charade) indie pop song Henri...which you can download for free at Amazon.

Since The Heavy Circles webpage says that videos are "coming soon," I thought I'd post up an older video of Edie Brickell singing the lovely "Once In a Blue Moon"--not a song with an edge :) Enjoy!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Abigail Thomas: Safekeeping, Some True Stories from a Life

My sister recently recommended Abigail Thomas' Safekeeping: Some True Stories from a Life as good airplane reading. When I first glanced through it, I admit, I groaned. The chapters are extremely short, the story jumps around with no chronological order, the viewpoint changes from third person to first person to second person with no warning. I thought, oh great, another too-cool-for-school, experimental memoir that's trying to be deep. Thanks, Anna.

Then I started reading.

Safekeeping is actually a very lovely, well-crafted book about marriage, love, life, and mostly, memory. It is the story of a middle-aged woman who is trying to piece together her memories, trying to sort through and reconcile her life after the loss of a close friend who was "once upon a time" her husband.

The short, out-of-order chapters work because that is how memories come to us. In short, uncontrollable bursts. A displaced memory of a smashed dish, a loose fragment of a conversation, the cramped feeling of an old apartment.

The switch in viewpoint works surprisingly well. Instead of coming off as unbearably post-modern or uber-artistic, it serves as a simple, concrete tool. A woman trying to get a 360 degree view of her life. We see her as a young woman as *she* remembers herself. Then we see her as she imagines an objective observer might see her. Then her sister comes in and says, no that's not how it went at all...don't you remember?

And that's the thing. We don't remember. Not exactly. Abigail Thomas writes on her website:

I’ve written nothing but non-fiction for years now in spite of my poor memory. I can remember moments, and scenes, but not what happened when or what came after...But if I could remember everything in its proper sequence, there’s a lot of life that’s interesting to live but not so interesting to write about, let alone read. And frankly, I’m bored by chronology. I don’t even believe in chronology. Time is too weird. It contracts, then it shoots forward (or back), it dawdles, stops still, and then suddenly we’re twenty years down the road. Whole decades evaporate. For me connecting the dots is not as absorbing as the dots themselves. I’m more interested in why certain memories stand out. Why these and not others?
It's a great question, and one that I've been thinking about ever since I read Safekeeping. Writer Anne Lamott said this about the book, and I don't think I could sum it up better:
[Safekeeping is] not so much memoir as a stained-glass window of scenes garnered from a life. This is an unforgettable portrait of a grown-up woman who has learned to rejoice in being herself. Reading it, we feel the crazy beauty of life.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Heavy Circles: Henri & Confused

I don't know how I missed it for three whole weeks, but this morning I woke up and realized that the new collaboration between Edie Brickell and Harper Simon is out! The Heavy Circles was released Feb. 12, and so far this morning, I've listened to two songs:

So far, the vibe is cool, Edie Brickell's voice is engaging and startling and lovely as always, so now I'm off to Rhapsody to listen to the rest. I'll do a full review next week after I've had time to listen to the whole thing and process it all, but in the meantime, let me know what you think!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Lois Lowry: Gossamer

This weekend I had a lot of mundane chores to take care of, so for a treat, I downloaded the audiobook of Lois Lowry's new(ish) book, Gossamer. For almost a year now, every time I've gone to the library, I've looked for Gossamer. Every single time, it's been checked out. This is a good thing.

Fuse #8 wrote about Gossamer when it first came out, and she had this to say about Ms. Lowry (to which I'd like to add an emphatic my feelings exactly):

Lois Lowry is my comfort blanket. When you pick up a Lois Lowry book (and it really doesn't matter if it was Anastasia Krupnik or the book I will discuss with you now) you are blessed with the knowledge that this book will fufill the following requirements: It will be good. It will be interesting. It will be wholly original...Her books are perfectly thought out little worlds.
I don't dare say too much about Gossamer for fear of spoiling the quiet feeling of awe and wonder as it unfolds. Besides, there are already a lot of good, detailed reviews out there. But this is a lovely, delicate story about our most ethereal possessions: our dreams. How our lives not only inform what we dream, but what we dream can shape our lives.

The story itself follows the "dream-keepers" as they bestow dreams on a boy, his foster parent, and his mother. It's a beautiful mix of fantasy and realism, of soft, gossamer touches and rough edges.

The publisher pegs this book for ages 9-12, but I also think that younger children (6-8) would really enjoy and connect with it as a read-aloud (with a reassuring parent to help through the boy's troubled past). And if you've ever been a fan of Lois Lowry's work, you'll enjoy it no matter what your age. :)

Here's a short interview with Lois Lowry about the book at

And here's a terrific interview at Writer Unboxed about writing, photography, and the importance of human connections. Plus, answers to lots of questions from "an enthusiastic 6th grade reading class."