Monday, January 30, 2012

Newbery, Caldecott, & Printz: "The Call"

Every year, I'm on pins and needles to find out who won the ALA awards. The Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz Awards are like the kidlit Oscars, and I'm the giggly fangirl who can't wait for all the celebrity gossip.

So you can imagine how much I loved Publishers Weekly for printing an article on where the winners were when they received "The Call." I love being privy to the details: Jack Gantos' brief hope that it wasn't going to be his mom on the other line, Chris Raschka's search for his lost cell phone, John Corey Whaley's shock when he received a second call.

And of course I have to hoot and holler for my favorites. Chris Raschka: Hooray! Two decades after its first publication, Charlie Parker Played Be Bop is still in my Top 10 picture books of all time.

If you need all the details, too, I recommend the Publisher's Weekly article:
Gantos, Raschka, Whaley: Where They Were When the Award Call Came

And the winners are...

Friday, January 27, 2012

Grab Bag Friday Movie Vault: Gene Kelly, I Got Rhythm

Last week, when I was stuck on the couch with a cold, I watched tons of old movies, including the 1951 classic, An American in Paris. When I need a pick-me-up, there are few things I like better than to watch Gene Kelly dance. And while I love his more serious pieces, I'm partial to the moments when it seems like he's just goofing around. Somehow, in the sillier pieces, the athleticism and originality seems all the more stunning (and of course, fun).

Gene Kelly: I Got Rhythm
(Sorry, I can't seem to embed it, so you'll have to click on the link.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Etta James: Something's Got a Hold on Me

To continue a bit of Etta James nostalgia, here's one of her hit songs from 1962 and a 2003 interview reflecting on her career.

Etta James: Something's Got a Hold on Me

Etta James: 2003 CNN interview
(Sorry, no embedding allowed, you'll have to click on the link.)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Cornelius Eady: The Gardenia

I listened this weekend to Etta James' Mystery Lady: Songs of Billie Holiday and it put me in mind of Corneilius Eady's poem about Billie Holiday. I love the anguish of this poem. The wish to take back sadness and pain, to change the course of history. And the realization that, like it or not, our histories--where we come from and the things we go through--shape who we are. They shape what we bring to the world.

The Gardenia
by Cornelius Eady

The trouble is, you can never take
That flower from Billie's hair.
She is always walking too fast
and try as we might,

there's no talking her into slowing.
Don't go down into that basement,
we'd like to scream. What will it take
to bargain her blues,

To retire that term when it comes
to her? But the grain and the cigarettes,
the narcs and the fancy-dressed boys,
the sediment in her throat.

That's the soil those petals spring from,
Like a fist, if a fist could sing.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Etta James: Sunday Kind of Love

Kevin told me over the phone this morning that Etta James died, and my sister emailed to say "I just heard the news...thinking of you guys!" Isn't it funny how the musicians, writers, and artists we love can become such a part of our lives that we think of them almost like family? We carry their words, songs, and images with us into the most important moments of our lives. They become part of our own stories.

In December of 1999, I was finishing up my last year of graduate school. Kevin and I had been dating for a year, but he had finished his degree the previous spring and moved back to Los Angeles. He wanted me to come visit for his birthday, but I (ever frugal and goal-oriented) dragged my feet. It would cost a lot. I had my thesis to finish. Come, he said. It'll be worth it.

When I arrived in L.A., I opened a newspaper and gasped. "Etta James is playing at the House of Blues this weekend!" I cried. "Let's go!" Kevin shook his head and pointed to the SOLD OUT notice stamped on the ad. Besides, he had other plans for that night.

Plans, indeed. First, he took me to a swanky restaurant where I had the most elaborate dessert of my life. A cream puff swan in a pond of caramel next to a chocolate gazebo. I kid you not. It was art of the most delicious kind. And with my dessert, the waiter delivered a sweet anniversary card Kevin had made up ahead of time. Aw.

Then, we went to the Griffith Observatory, my favorite place to visit in L.A. Not only does the park figure prominently in "A Rebel Without a Cause," but it also has the best view in L.A. (you can actually see stars--the real kind), and it has endlessly fascinating scientific games and exhibits. Unfortunately, the Observatory was closing in 15 minutes, so I made a beeline for the scientific games. I wanted to check out at least a couple exhibits and get a look through the telescope before the building closed.

Kevin had other ideas.

In fact, Kevin had been acting weird all night. Sweaty palms, easily distracted. And now he didn't want to look at the scientific games. He wanted to walk up the hill. The hill? But the telescope would be locked up in a matter of minutes! Kevin pulled me away from the crowd so we could look up at the stars. And then he went down on one knee and held out a sparkly ring. Honestly. After a few tearful kisses, we even had time to go look at the moon through the telescope before the park closed.

As we drove home, we neared the House of Blues and I sighed. The night we'd had was better than an Etta James concert, but still...

And that's when Kevin turned into the parking lot. He'd had tickets to the concert all along. We walked in, a new ring on my finger, a flutter in my heart, and listened to Etta James sing. Only she didn't just sing. She crooned, she howled, she poured everything she had into those songs. Honesty, frustration, sadness, and joy. I will never forget that on one of the most important nights of my life, Etta James let it all out for us to share.
“A lot of people think the blues is depressing,” she told The Los Angeles Times in 1992, “but that’s not the blues I’m singing. When I’m singing blues, I’m singing life. People that can’t stand to listen to the blues, they’ve got to be phonies.” (From today's NYT)
Etta James: Sunday Kind of Love

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Duke Ellington: Don't Get Around Much Anymore

Still having fun with my new record player...

This is my favorite version of the great Ellington tune "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," recorded in May 1940. At that time, it was an instrumental piece called "Never No Lament." After it became a hit, Bob Russell wrote the lyrics we know and love so well, and the song title was changed to fit the lyrics.

I have a simple, stripped down version of this tune that I love to teach my piano students because invariably, they fall in love with the melody and the swing. Even the ones who normally drag their feet when presented with a tough new piece break down after a minute or two and exclaim, "This is FUN!"

Duke Ellington: Don't Get Around Much Anymore (Never No Lament)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Walter Dean Myers: Reading Is Not Optional

Last week, Walter Dean Myers was sworn in as National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. I was so pleased with the previous two choices for this position. Jon Scieszka, the nation's first Ambassador for Young People's Literature is a comedic genius who is particularly good at capturing the imaginations (and funny bones) of boy readers, and Katherine Paterson has a depth and beauty to her prose that has been transporting readers for decades.

The choice of Walter Dean Myers as the 2012-13 ambassador is equally inspired. Myers does not shy away from tough material. His work is varied, but his young adult books often deal with the grittiest realities of urban life: gangs, prison, war, drugs. He's not overly graphic, but he deals honestly with the emotions and intensity that many kids live through each day, and he manages to infuse his work with a sense of hope and strength through the struggle. We need this type of honesty as much as we need laughter and beauty.

It's not surprising, then, that Myers plans to take a brutally honest, hard line in his approach to the ambassadorship. There's a short interview on NPR with Myers in which he says his motto as ambassador will be "Reading Is Not Optional." He explains that too often we think of book as "nice, but not necessary." But the world, he explains, has changed. The job options for non-readers are disappearing fast, and Myers believes you can no longer do well in life without reading well.

I'm certain that Myers will make an impact as ambassador, and I'm interested to follow the work he will do to reach children who are not being reached today.

NPR Interview with Ambassador Myers

New York Times article about Ambassador Myers

Friday, January 13, 2012

Grab Bag Friday: Planet Wall Art

I've been in bed for a couple days with a bad cold, so I'm going to keep this post short and sweet. For those of you who asked where I got the wall decals in my new music room, I found them on, of course. Be careful, though. Browsing Etsy can turn into an addiction!

For the singing birds above my piano, I mixed and matched two of the bird decals available at Planet Wall Art's Etsy shop. Here are the birds (I flipped the tree around and swapped the birds once they arrived, and you can choose your colors, so I chose royal blue and navy), plus couple other fun designs I bookmarked in case I ever need a stack of elephants in my house:

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Children's Celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.

This Monday, I'll be teaching and singing some songs of the Civil Rights Movement at the Bowdoin College Children's Celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Children's book authors Charlotte Agell and Rohan Henry will join me for a program of "illustrated storytelling", music, and crafts in remembrance of Dr. King.

The program is geared for ages 5 and up, there will be refreshments, and admission is free. What's not to like? I hope to see you there!

Monday, January 16, 2012
10:30 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
Daggett Lounge, Thorne Dining Hall

Please check the Bowdoin College website or call 725-3000, option 3 for event information in case of inclement weather.

Here's one of the songs we'll be learning (though no one can shred like Sister Rosetta, especially not me!):

Sister Rosetta Tharpe: Up Above My Head

Monday, January 9, 2012

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

These days, I'm working on a rough draft of a new novel. The toughest thing for me is that I have a brutal inner editor. The needling kind who reads over my shoulder and whispers constant insults until I end up spending three hours on three sentences.

That's no way to write a novel. So this month, as part of my long list of New Year's Resolutions, I'm attempting to kick that little guy out of the room. As my inspiration, I've been revisiting Anne Lamott's book on writing, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

Yesterday, I came across this quote that I particularly loved. It's helpful to know that all writers (probably all human beings) have that rotten inner editor. It also made me laugh...a helpful reminder to loosen up and have fun with the process.

“I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think that she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her. (Although when I mentioned this to my priest friend Tom, he said that you can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.)”

Friday, January 6, 2012

Grab Bag Friday: My New Music Room

One of the first things I wanted to do in our new house was create a beautiful music room where my students and I can easily find inspiration

Even though it took a monk's level of patience to take down the wall paper, and my arm felt like it was going to fall off from putting four coats of paint on all the dark trim, and the banner was tedious and overly-ambitious, it was well worth the effort. In fact, I'm so pleased, I have to share a few before and after pictures.

Before (a formal dining room):

After (my very own music room!):

Monday, January 2, 2012

Erroll Garner: Misty

A few weeks ago, Kevin and I drove up to Damariscotta to pick up an old 1960's stereo console we found on Craigslist. This weekend, we got the turntable working and I've been having a blast playing through old records. That familiar hiss and pop is like a time machine: instant childhood nostalgia!

The first record I pulled out was by Erroll Garner, one of the musicians who helped jazz music cross over from bars and clubs into concert halls in the 1940s and 50s. It always amazes me to remember that he was self-taught and never learned to read music. In fact, I once read a story about how a Pittsburgh musicians guild refused his membership for years because he couldn't read notation.

Here's what is widely regarded to be his most famous tune: Misty by Erroll Garner

Philip Levine: Let Me Begin Again

Happy 2012! Over the past few months, I've taken some time off to get settled in my new home and finish a revision of my novel. There are still plenty of boxes to be unpacked and writerly tinkering to be done, but I'm back in the blogosphere and excited for the new year!

To kick things off, here is a poem by U.S. Poet Laureate, Philip Levine. In 2012, I hope we will all remember to "love this life because it is like no other."

Let Me Begin Again
by Philip Levine

Let me begin again as a speck
of dust caught in the night winds
sweeping out to sea. Let me begin
this time knowing the world is
salt water and dark clouds, the world
is grinding and sighing all night, and dawn
comes slowly and changes nothing. Let
me go back to land after a lifetime
of going nowhere. This time lodged
in the feathers of some scavenging gull
white above the black ship that docks
and broods upon the oily waters of
your harbor. This leaking freighter
has brought a hold full of hayforks
from Spain, great jeroboams of dark
Algerian wine, and quill pens that can't
write English. The sailors have stumbled
off toward the bars of the bright houses.
The captain closes his log and falls asleep.
1/10'28. Tonight I shall enter my life
after being at sea for ages, quietly,
in a hospital named for an automobile.
The one child of millions of children
who has flown alone by the stars
above the black wastes of moonless waters
that stretched forever, who has turned
golden in the full sun of a new day.
A tiny wise child who this time will love
his life because it is like no other.