Monday, June 29, 2009

Quick! Go Win Amy Schimler's New Book!

Amy Schimler, intrepid illustrator and designer of all things whimsical and fun, is giving away a free copy of her new book. But she's announcing the winner TOMORROW (Tuesday), so you've got to head over there fast to get in on the action.

You may remember Amy from an interview I did during the last Robert's Snow Auction. Well, since then, she's been a busy bee, designing all kinds of great fabrics and I'm excited to announce that her newest book, What Do You See? (A Lift-the-Flap Book About Endangered Animals) written by Stephen Krensky, just came out this month.

What Do You See? is part of a new series of books by Little Green Books that intends to "get little ones excited about going green." The aim of this particular book is to get kids interested in and aware of endangered animals. Amy Schimler's illustrations along with Stephen Krensky's text give you just enough hints to guess which animal might be hiding in the scene before you lift the flap for the satisfying reveal of a smiling rhino or intricate Monarch butterfly.

I bought the book a couple weeks ago, and put it in a stack in my living room where parents often read to younger siblings while waiting for my students to finish their lessons. I've enjoyed opening the music room door to hear cries of "It's a panda!"

All the books in the Little Green series are made from 100% recycled material and you can visit for eco-friendly tips, games, and activities. You can enter the contest to win What Do You See? over at Amy Schimler's blog.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Grab Bag Saturday: Smooth Criminal

I've heard/read a lot of chatter over the last couple days about how Michael Jackson's dancing (back in the day, before all the dazzle burned him out) was influenced by Fred Astaire, admired by Fred Astaire, as good as Fred Astaire. Apparently, after Jackson performed the moonwalk for the first time, Fred Astaire called him up to tell him how fabulous it was.

Well, here's a cool Astaire mashup of Smooth Criminal that someone put together about a year ago.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Yundi Li: Chopin Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2

I've been listening to Chopin's Nocturnes in the morning recently (yes, I know, nocturnes in the morning...). Which means that I have the theme from Op. 9 No. 2 in my head a lot these days.

The melody of this piece is so pretty and melancholy, it soothes and breaks the heart at the same time. I came across this video of Yundi Li performing the piece, and was struck by how gently and effortlessly his fingers appear to be playing it, and yet how wrapped up and fully into the music he is. Watch him at the end...he's completely shaken by the music. It's a beautiful thing.

I also came across this quote at Chopin Music--George Sand about Chopin's writing process (Chopin and Sand had a 10-year relationship that came to a rather unpleasant end):
"His creative work was spontaneous, miraculous. It came to him without effort or warning... But then began the most heartrending labour I have ever witnessed. It was a series of attempts, of fits of irresolution and impatience to recover certain details. He would shut himself in his room for days, pacing up and down, breaking his pens, repeating and modifying one bar a hundred times."
It's amazing to me how a composer will put immense effort and work like this into one bar of music, and it can come out sounding as effortless and simple as if he just plucked it out of the sky. Which is, of course, the goal.

According to Chopin Music, Chopin once wrote:
"Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art."

Monday, June 22, 2009

William Butler Yeats: The Lake Isle of Innisfree

Another dreary day here in Maine (summer will come soon, I swear it will), and I'm at my kitchen table with a cup of tea and some Yeats. I'm in the mood for something classic today.

"The Lake Isle of Innisfree" was written in 1893, a meditation on the lake isle where Yeats used to vacation as a boy. When you think of your childhood, do you have a place of rest like this? Someplace you can go to in your mind when the rush and tumble of adulthood is too much?

For me, there was a little path through the woods I used to walk almost every day in the summer. The beginning of the path was small and close, lined with dark pine trees (I could have sworn faeries lived in there), but after a while, it opened up to light and birches. You'd pass a small open field, with a tree stump perfect for sitting, and if you turned to the right, you would come to the tiniest little opening at the lake--which I liked to call the "Wild Beach." When I was in college, the path was bulldozed and widened to allow forestry trucks to get through, and while it's still a lovely walk, the magic evaporated. But I still go there in my mind whenever I need a little peace that can't quite be found any other way.

"Innisfree" is one of the most lovely, lyrical, nostalgic pieces, and I love how the rhythm of the words flow like the lapping of the water--mesmerizing, infused with a deep, calm longing. It's almost a lullaby.

Below the poem, I've posted a neat homemade video of someone reading the poem while filming a spot on the actual Isle of Innisfree. Very cool.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree
by William Butler Yeats

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a-glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear the water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Grab Bag Friday: Falling Slowly

It's June, and that means I'm officially wrapped up in one of my favorite guilty pleasures: Season 5 of So You Think You Can Dance! One of the things I love the most about this show is how often I am surprised by a style, dancer, or choreographer that I thought I'd already made my mind up about.

For instance, this couple was easily at the bottom of my list until this week when they hooked up with choreographer Stacy Tookey. Her choreography paired with the gorgeous song "Falling Slowly" brought out something in these dancers I hadn't seen before. As if the movement and music unlocked a little door and let the light shine through.

I think this is just lovely in every way:

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Taylor Swift: Love Story

Apologies for missing my Monday post...our router fried out at home, so we haven't had internet for a few days. Crazy how much can come to a standstill because of one little piece of plastic!

Recently, Taylor Swift's Love Story megahit has come up in more conversations than I can count. Since it came out, it's always been in the air, of course, but in the last month, my music students have requested it, I've seen girls at two separate elementary school variety shows sing it with awkward, heart-rending, 10 year old passion, and last night before bed, my 8 year old niece sang it to me over the phone, word for word, without missing a beat.

So what is it about Love Story that makes every young girl swoon? A catchy melody, yes. A pretty girl, of course. But really, I think it's the power of proper story construction. The song is written like a little movie. There's a cute meet, they fall in love, there are obstacles, she feels misunderstood, and just at the last moment when she thinks all is lost, he comes back, the obstacles are cleared, and all is well. And it's all set in a flashback, so that the line "We were both young when I first saw you," repeated at the beginning and end leads us to believe they are still together and really did live happily ever after.

I actually really like the video. It's sweet and romantic without one single kiss. When they sneak off for their illicit rendezvous in the woods, they mainly talk and walk, hold hands, and hang out with a horse. And what girl wouldn't want that horse?

Love Story
by Taylor Swift

We were both young when I first saw you.
I close my eyes and the flashback starts:
I'm standing there on a balcony in summer air.

See the lights, see the party, the ball gowns.
See you make your way through the crowd
and say hello;

Little did I know
That you were Romeo; you were throwing pebbles,
And my daddy said, "Stay away from Juliet."
And I was crying on the staircase,
begging you, 'Please, don't go.'"

And I said,
"Romeo, take me somewhere we can be alone.
I'll be waiting; all there's left to do is run.
You'll be the prince and I'll be the princess
It's a love story - baby just say 'Yes.'"

So I sneak out to the garden to see you.
We keep quiet 'cause we're dead if they knew.
So close your eyes; escape this town for a little while.
'Cause you were Romeo, I was a scarlet letter,
And my daddy said "Stay away from Juliet,"
But you were everything to me; I was begging you, 'Please, don't go,'"

And I said,
"Romeo, take me somewhere we can be alone.
I'll be waiting; all there's left to do is run.
You'll be the prince and I'll be the princess
It's a love story - baby just say 'Yes.'

Romeo save me - they're tryin' to tell me how to feel;
This love is difficult, but it's real.
Don't be afraid; we'll make it out of this mess.
It's a love story - baby just say "Yes.'"

I got tired of waiting,
Wondering if you were ever comin' around.
My faith in you was fading
When I met you on the outskirts of town,

And I said,
"Romeo save me - I've been feeling so alone.
I keep waiting for you but you never come.
Is this in thy head? I don't know what to think-"

He knelt to the ground and pulled out a ring and said,
"Marry me, Juliet - you'll never have to be alone.
I love you and that's all I really know.
I talked to your dad - go pick out a white dress;
It's a love story - baby just say 'Yes.'"

'Cause we were both young when I first saw you...

Friday, June 12, 2009

Grab Bag Friday: Surprise Wedding Reception

Today is my bro's 30th birthday! And since he's getting married in just a couple months, I thought I'd post a little wedding fun.

The folks at Improv Everywhere are at it again. I loved this one...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The P.S. 22 Chorus: Landslide

My student assistant's jaw dropped to the ground this week when she found out that I had never seen the videos of the PS22 Chorus. "But this is what you do!" she exclaimed.

Somehow, incredibly, I have missed these sweet performances by the Staten Island P.S. 22 Chorus. The chorus was started by a 2nd grade teacher, Mr. Breinberg (Mr. B, of course) who wanted to teach the kids popular songs, songs they would relate to. He put a few videos up on YouTube, started a blog, and the way these viral Cinderella stories go, the kids were soon singing with the likes of Tori Amos and making Stevie Nicks cry.

Well, who wouldn't cry? In a New York Times article, Mr. B says,
"There’s a great feeling in seeing these kids — some of whom have been abused, neglected, who have nothing to look forward to when they get home — and knowing that when they come in to my class to sing, you can just see the depth of their emotional experience come through."
And does it ever come through. I love this about music. When these kids sing the lines But time makes you bolder/ children get older/ I'm getting older too, you can see that it hits some of them deeply and they sing it straight from the core. Music gives us a place to take our experiences, give them a voice, and send them flying. It also brings us together, and helps us realize that while we all come from vastly different places in our lives, we can sing the same song. Deeply. Boldly. And if we let it, sharing that song can change who we are.

(Landslide video)

Monday, June 8, 2009

David Small: Imogene's Antlers

"On Thursday, when Imogene woke up, she found she had grown antlers."

When I need a book that is going to immediately catch kids' attention, hook them from the very first line, and set their imaginations reeling, I often reach for Imogene's Antlers. There are very few sure bets in the world. Imogene is one of them.

Imogene wakes up one morning to find that she has grown antlers. While this creates some hilarious inconveniences and much fainting on the part of her mother, Imogene and her family come up with some ingenious uses for her new antlers. The surprise ending is one of my all-time favorites, and a crowd-pleaser to boot.

Author/illustrator David Small's illustrations have appeared in countless issues of The New Yorker and The New York Times, and he has illustrated over 40 picture books. On his website, you can view his sketchbook, which is a real treat. Here are a couple of my favorite pages:

Friday, June 5, 2009

Grab Bag Friday: Color Me Katie

On Color Me Katie's blog, Katie recently announced that Radar has put together a documentary about her work. I love Color Me Katie's "street art" photographs because they are so whimsical and spontaneous and pure fun. The Radar documentary captures all the hard work and planning (and fun!) that goes into creating that spontaneity. It's definitely worth a gander:

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Pomegranates: Southern Ocean

Quick post this morning, since I was up late processing summer workshop registrations. It's so much fun to see some of my previous students returning, and this year there are a lot of new names. I can't wait to meet everyone! There is still some space in Songwriting (K-3), Fiction (3-5), and Poetry (3-5) in case you know anyone who'd like to join in the fun.

I came across "Southern Ocean" by the Pomegranates on NPR's Song of the Day, and it hit the spot: poppy, energetic, fun, with a little raw edge to it. I'll definitely be poking around for more from this band.

Here's how NPR describes the song. Though I'm a little too sleepy for prose at the moment...I admit I had to read it a couple times through. :)
The tune opens with a catchy, surf-tinged motif, then shifts into a tense second movement, propelling the immaculately crafted plot with anticipation and a rich melody. The band never sacrifices the blithe rock sensibility needed to keep the track afloat: "Southern Ocean" exudes such effortless precision, and such fun, that accomplishing all of that in two and a half minutes isn't even a stretch.
Um, just go listen to the song. Maybe dance and bop around a little. That should do.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Jon Scieszka: Knucklehead

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Jon Scieszka is a creative genius.

Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing Up Scieszka is a hilarious memoir (geared toward the 9-12 set) filled with short vignettes about what it's like to grow up in a family of six kids. Six boys, no less. And just in case that family structure alone isn't comedy itself, try this: six boys in Catholic school.

Of course, growing up in a family of six kids myself (we were five girls, one boy...comedy of another sort), the stories made me grin, guffaw, and repeatedly force my husband to read and re-read chapters. It's that kind of book. The kind you have to share because it's just cruel to keep that much funny to yourself.

After the first couple chapters, I decided to ration myself and only read one chapter a night. I didn't want it to end, and what better way to go to sleep than after a good chuckle?

More than anything, Knucklehead is a testament to the strength of sibling relationships. Jon Scieszka's book illuminates the mystery of how you can sell your brother his own shirt, get him to eat a burnt out cigarette butt, pee on him, and even break his collar bone, and still come out laughing on the other side.

Here's an NPR story about Kucklehead (with some excerpts from the book at the bottom of the page).

Here's a great Reading Rockets interview with Jon Scieszka about growing up with five brothers, teaching elementary school, his unconventional style, and how to get boys interested in reading: