Friday, February 27, 2009

Grab Bag Friday: Mixed Bag

A few random things today:

  • It's been snowing so much around here that I'm beginning to think it will never melt! Our walkway to our house is now this narrow little path up to my waist. We took pictures, but I haven't uploaded them to my computer yet, but I'll try to post some soon. The photo below is from a local news story about this week's storm. It's pretty much what my street looked like on Monday.
  • Please consider taking a moment today to donate to your state or local equivalent of Keep Maine Warm. Often, donations to programs like this can taper off as Winter wanes, but as much as I'd like to be in denial, we're still a long way from Spring! There are still many people in places like Northern Maine who are going to be in severe need of heating assistance over the next few weeks.
  • Thanks so much to Cynthia Lord for choosing me for her surprise pick in her top 12 this week (even though I'm not even on American Idol!) If you haven't read Cynthia's book, Rules, you really ought to head down to the library or the bookstore right this second. Seriously. Go ahead and cancel your plans for the rest of the morning.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Concert Sunday: My Big Band Dreams, Realized

As any of you who know me are well aware of, I grew up on the Andrews Sisters and Bing Crosby. When I was in high school, I was in love with the Glenn Miller Orchestra and Anita O'Day and Doris Day (I was also in love with Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins, but hey, I've always been an eclectic kind of girl.)

While my classmates were out at field parties in the summer, my friends and I were hosting (very small) big band parties, equipped with candles and 1940's style outfits and outdoor dancing to Pennsylvania 6-5000.

So when Bowdoin College's concert band asked me to do a show with them and sing some old Gershwin standards in the *gorgeous* new Studzinski Auditorium, I was an eensy bit excited.

If you're going to be in Maine this weekend, you can come watch me live out my dreams of being a 1940's big band singer:

Here's one of the songs I'm going to sing:

Monday, February 16, 2009

Ezra Jack Keats: The Snowy Day

First off, I have to apologize for being so sporadic with my blog this month. Usually, I look forward to writing Black History Month posts because I love to honor the black writers and musicians who have been such important voices in our country's history. Suffice it to say, life has gotten more hectic than usual this month and I'll be back on my game in a week or so. :)

Secondly, it's maybe a little unconventional to feature two white children's book authors as part of my Black History Month series, but I love Chris Raschka's treatment of Charlie Parker (last week's post) and this week's feature, Ezra Jack Keats, played a huge role in giving African American children a central, important place in kid's literature.

Until The Snowy Day (published in 1963), American children's books featured white children as the heroes (if you know of one that didn't, I'd love to hear about it). In the biography on his website, Ezra Jack Keats says:

Then began an experience that turned my life around—working on a book with a black kid as hero. None of the manuscripts I’d been illustrating featured any black kids—except for token blacks in the background. My book would have him there simply because he should have been there all along.

Besides being culturally groundbreaking, opening up children's literature to some of the marginalized citizens in our society, The Snowy Day is a beautiful book that perfectly captures the wonder and joy that can be found outside on a snowy day (yes, even in the city!)

A couple years ago, Kevin took me to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art for my birthday, and we got to see original pages from this book. It was amazing to see the original cutouts, watercolor, and collage in person. Illustrations that looked like a consistent whole in the published book turned out to be separate pieces of paper fit and intricately glued together. It just goes to show, things that seem so polished and perfect always have an underside with details we can't even begin to imagine.

With that in mind, I'll close with a story on Keats' website that I loved. Keats was in school during the Depression, and his father tried to discourage him from focusing on art. He wanted him to do something more practical that would earn money. In 1935, when Keats' father died of a heart attack, he had to go through his father's belongings:
"I found myself staring deep into his [my father’s] secret feelings. There in his wallet were worn and tattered newspaper clippings of the notices of the awards I had won. My silent admirer and supplier, he had been torn between his dread of my leading a life of hardship and his real pride in my work."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Stevie Wonder: Never Had a Dream Come True

In the *biggest* news this week (around my house anyway), there was a new addition to the Hatchet Cove Farm family! In honor of Cecelia Jane's birth, here is the Stevie Wonder song that I sang at her parents' wedding.

I never, never had a dream come true
In my every dream, I'm loved by you

Welcome to the world, Cecelia Jane. I hope your dreams will be filled with laughter and sunshine and music and good, green, growing things. And I know they will come true.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Chris Raschka: Charlie Parker Played Be Bop

There are a few books that I find myself buying over and over again. I always end up giving away my copy, or thinking of another person who *needs* to have it. Charlie Parker Played Be Bop is definitely in that category.

On the surface, Chris Raschka's illustrations are so full of color and whimsy that you want to linger on each page a moment, just to breathe it in. But beyond that, Charlie Parker Played Be Bop is one of those rare books that can actually make you feel what the author is describing (in this case, be bop).

In some ways (like be bop), there's not much to it. There are rarely more than 5 or 6 words per page, and many of the phrases are repeated over and over again. But Raschka uses rhythm and rhyme in ways that are both satisfyingly predictable and completely surprising. By the time you get to:

Alphabet, alphabet, alphabet, alph,
Chickadee, chickadee, chickadee, chick,
Overshoes, overshoes, overshoes, o,
Reeti-footi, reeti-footi, reeti-footie, ree

you can practically hear the saxophone in your ear and you want to tap your foot and dance along. It's impossible to read this book out loud and not start to put some *swing* into it. Every single time I have read this book to my students they immediately respond with a resounding, "Read it again!"

Friday, February 6, 2009

Grab Bag Friday: No Pants Day

I love that there are goofy, creative people out there who are willing to do things like this. This little project involved 2500 people in 22 cities all over the world.

Thanks to Fuse #8 for turning me on to Color Me Katie. It just goes to show you that a small amount of effort can make the world a more whimsical place. For instance, last Friday, Color Me Katie planted colorful butterflies all over the city. Love it.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Andrew Bird: Noble Beast Tour

This weekend, Kevin and I were ridiculously excited to find out that Andrew Bird was coming to the college we work at. Somehow, we managed to find a couple students who weren't going to use their tickets (I was sure *no one* would want to give them up), and we tried not to look too old as we walked into the packed auditorium (we also had to hide a couple yawns around 10pm when the rest of the audience was apparently just getting *started* with their evening).

The show was phenomenal, and you should definitely check out the tour dates. I've been a fan of Andrew Bird since he was Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire in the late 90's, but I've never seen him live. So it was fun to see little details in person. (Like, oh! that eerie background part is actually Andrew Bird whistling!) The set was perfectly whimsical, with Alice-in-Wonderland-sized, brightly colored phonograph-style speakers hovering over the musicians. The performance was terrific. Apparently, he had been trying to kick a fever for the last few days, and still he threw himself into the songs like he had all the energy in the world.

But the most striking thing about seeing Andrew Bird live was the extensive looping. He would play a few bars, loop it (which basically means you've created a recording of it that comes back over and over again through the speakers), loop something else over that, and so on until you felt like you were just being washed over with sound. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you can see it in this video. The first thing that he plays comes back again and again, and he's playing and looping more things over it as it goes along. The result was breathtaking.

Here's Natural Disaster, another song I like off Andrew Bird's new album, Noble Beast, that he played at the show: