Friday, May 27, 2011

Grab Bag Friday: Songwriting and Fiction Writing for Kids

June 1st is practically here! That means there are only a few days left to register for my Songwriting for Kids and Fiction Writing for Kids summer workshops at Bowdoin College! I'm really looking forward to helping the students channel all their creative ideas into stories and songs.

PLEASE NOTE: There are only 2 spots left for this year's Songwriting for Kids workshop! If you would like to sign up, please do so quickly!

For more information, please visit or you can email me and I will be glad to mail you a hard copy of the brochure.

July 18-22 Songwriting for Kids Vol. 1
Students entering grades K-3
Price: $135; $115 sibling rate
This is the traditional Songwriting for Kids workshop. We will learn American folk songs and use them to discover the basics of songwriting while gaining some insight into the historical context of the songs. We will focus on elements of rhythm, rhyme, melody, and above all, collaboration. Students will learn about creative teamwork and work together to write a class song. Students who have previously taken this workshop are more than welcome as songs and activities vary from year to year.

July 18-22
Fiction Writing for Kids

Grades 3-5
Price: $135; $115 sibling rate
This workshop teaches the basics of fiction writing, including Character, Plot, Revision, and Imaginative Writing. During the workshop, students will study character development, plot structure, and setting in popular children's literature and will write and illustrate their very own book.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Martha Tilton: Loch Lomond

I'm feeling a little old fashioned this morning, so I went searching for some Martha Tilton. Chances are you've never heard of her, which is a shame since she has one of the most lilting voices known to mankind. In fact, I believe some used to call her "liltin' Tilton" (clever, no?)

Best known as the vocalist who sang And the Angels Sing with the Benny Goodman Orchestra at their first Carnegie Hall Concert in 1938, Ms. Tilton and the band also tore it up with a swinging version of the old Scottish tune, Loch Lomond.

I love the Benny Goodman version of this song. Hilariously, my Martha Tilton/Loch Lomond search also brought me to a kitschy gem of a video made in 1941. The awkward hip-swinging, step-dancing bit made my day. And the two guys who have no purpose but to stand by a rock and do a brief bagpipe impression? Priceless. I'll be chuckling all morning long.

Here are both versions for your enjoyment:

Monday, May 23, 2011

Keeper and The Night-Blooming Cereus

Right now, I'm reading Kathi Appelt's new book, Keeper. So far, I haven't been completely sucked in like I was when reading The Underneath, but I'm only halfway through, so we'll see. One thing that stands out, though, is the way Ms. Appelt is able to capture a palpable sense of waiting. I put the in italics because it is not just your ho-hum pass-the-time kind of waiting. The whole book is infused with heavy anticipation, a quiet but persistent feeling that any moment now, some small, magical shift is going to change everything.

The perfect symbol of this waiting is the night-blooming cereus. Keeper's neighbor, Mr. Beauchamp, has a night-blooming cereus. This is a plant that blooms rarely, and only at night. In Kathi Appelt's novel, Mr. Beauchamp is waiting, waiting, for the plant to flower on the night of the blue moon.

So here's the truth. This is all a rambling excuse to write once again about how much I love Robert Hayden. Everytime I pick up Keeper, I want to pull his Collected Poems off the shelf and thumb through to "The Night-Blooming Cereus," a beautiful example of waiting for something magical to happen in the everyday. 

It's long, so I can't post the whole thing here, but check out these first few stanzas and then you'll have to go grab the book from your library (because the last stanza is one of my favorite stanzas of all time). Or better yet, buy the'll want to have it handy for times like these. You may also be able to read the whole poem online at Google Books.

(Also, apologies to Mr. Hayden for the incorrect formatting. Blogger can't handle poetic indentations.)

The Night-Blooming Cereus (excerpt)
by Robert Hayden

And so for nights
we waited, hoping to see
the heavy bud
break into flower.

On its neck-like tube
hooking down from the edge
of the leaf-branch
nearly to the floor,

the bud packed
tight with its miracle swayed
stiffly on breaths
of air, moved

as though impelled
by stirrings within itself.
It repelled as much
as it fascinated me...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Concert This Weekend!

As many of you know, I recently finished up a Songs of the Civil War Era artist residency in the Brunswick, Maine school district. I visited each fifth grade classroom three times and we had loads of fun singing the songs sung on the battlefield, cotton fields, and the homefront. We saw how the changing views of African Americans began to appear in popular music well before the war, and we learned about the "new American music" that the whole world was talking about long after the fighting was over.

But the fun's not over yet!

This Saturday, I'll give a final concert along with Martin Swinger (who's been working with the 1st graders). It's open to the public, so if you're in the area, I hope you'll come!

Saturday, May 21

I'm inviting all willing fifth graders to come up on stage with me to sing for you. If you're lucky, they'll share some of the "battle songs" they wrote themselves!

And even if you don't come to the concert, you can still hear the classroom songs. Some are funny, some are touching, some are very proud! You can listen to the classroom songs in the Listening Room at Songwriting for Kids. And you can even check out The Brunswick Broadside (.pdf) to read all the lyrics.

I hope I'll see you on Saturday. Thanks, as always, to Arts Are Elementary for the grant that made all of this possible!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Frank Cottrell Boyce: Cosmic & Millions

Given my 'druthers, I prefer middle grade fiction to be laugh-out-loud hilarious. But I also want genuine, steal-your-heart characters, a thread of depth and emotion that's believable but doesn't hit you over the head, and a satisfying, sigh-worthy ending. While I'm at it, a classic case of mistaken identity doesn't hurt.

A tall order? Perhaps. But every so often, an author delivers, and that is why Frank Cottrell Boyce is my new middle grade obsession. Here are two books you really must read:

Cosmic is a story about Liam, a twelve-year-old boy who's hit a bit of a growth spurt. In fact, with the seven inches and facial hair he gained over the summer, most strangers think he's an adult. At first, this manifests itself in some funny episodes like being mistaken for a teacher and taking a sports car out for a test drive. But when Liam has a chance to take a special "thrill-ride" to outer space, that's when things get a little out of control. Cosmic is funny and clever and touching in all the best ways.

Millions (Frank Cottrell Boyce's first novel) is set in England, just seven days before the monetary system changed from pounds to Euros. Fourth-grader Damian is struggling to cope with the loss of his mother and he obsesses over the stories of Catholic saints, hoping that perhaps his mom has joined their ranks. One day, while he is in his homemade cardboard "hermitage," a bag of English pounds falls from the sky. Convinced that it is a message from God, Damian believes he must use the money for saintly purposes. His brother, Anthony, just wants to spend it. Either way, they only have seven days to figure out what to do with the cash before it becomes completely worthless. A beautiful, funny, and poignant story about brothers, family, and the true meaning of saintliness.

An interesting side note: I saw the movie version of Millions a few years ago and it turns out that Frank Cottrell Boyce actually wrote the screenplay before he wrote the book. The movie version was already in production while he was writing the novel and he says in an interview that walking around on the set helped him visualize the setting while he was writing.

Here's an interview with Frank Cottrell Boyce about Cosmic:

Also posted at ACLA Youth Services Blog.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Grab Bag Friday: Creature Comforts on Fears & Phobias

I haven't posted one of these in a while. I love how the animators consistently paired the real-live interviews with hilarious animation. The penguin cracks me up!

Creature Comforts: Fears and Phobias

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Songs of the Civil War Era Rerun: Walk Together Children

It's my last week of my 5th grade school visit tour de force. Phew! These last few days, we'll be talking about the spirituals and "slave songs" that were sung in the cotton fields. Here's the last installment of my Songs of the Civil War Era blog reruns, in which I get very long winded and say "um" quite a bit more than anybody should.

Songs of the Civil War Era: Walk Together Children (originally posted on December 2, 2009)

For the last post in my Songs of the Civil War Era series, I thought I'd put up one of my favorite African-American spirituals, "Walk Together Children." I love the energy and joy in this song. And the lyrics are timeless, hopeful, inspirational, and true. If we work together toward that better day, just think what we can do!

Walk together children, don't you get weary

In the concert, the talking that comes before the song goes on a little long (and I apologize in advance for all the "um's") so I separated it out. That way, if you're not in the mood for a lecture, you can head straight for the music.

Here's the talking:

And here's the song:

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: Chris Van Allsburg

Thanks to Fuse #8 it has come to my attention that there is a new Harris Burdick book coming this fall. Some of you may remember that Chris Van Allsburg's wordless The Mysteries of Harris Burdick is one of my all-time favorite books for kick-starting young imaginations.

It can also kick-start not-so-young imaginations, as it turns out. The new book, The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, will feature stories inspired by the Harris Burdick illustrations. Check out the list of heavy-hitting contributing authors. Whooowie!
This inspired collection of short stories features many remarkable, best-selling authors in the worlds of both adult and children's literature: Sherman Alexie, M.T. Anderson, Kate DiCamillo, Cory Doctorow, Jules Feiffer, Stephen King, Tabitha King, Lois Lowry, Gregory Maguire, Walter Dean Myers, Linda Sue Park, Louis Sachar, Jon Scieszka, Lemony Snicket, and Chris Van Allsburg himself.

Find out more at Publisher's Weekly.