Thursday, July 22, 2010

"When I Crossed No-Bob", by Margaret McMullan

"When I Crossed No-Bob", by Margaret McMullan, is an extremely compelling read, direct and honest, historical and geographically significant. Set in Raleigh, Mississippi in 1875, it weaves together stories of many people: sympathetic white Anglos; proud Choctow Indians; poor, miscreant white folk involved in the KKK, colored folk finding their way post-emancipation. The protagonist is a poor, uneducated 12 year-old girl, Abby O'Donnell, abandoned by her parents after growing up in No-Bob, the woods adjacent to the township. She is a sensitive and bright child, wanting to do right by people, and as she falls into uncertain and even dangerous situations, she develops into a stronger person, highly resiliant and with a gentile noblility.

Some of my favorite passages from the book are as follows. "People. They are like lightning sometimes. Unexpected, beautiful, and scary - mostly you can't run away from either one." "Zula is right. Us Anglos are full up with too much noise and too many words. My ears ring with all the words. Children running around, screaming in the streets, women inside whispering whispering, and the men brawling in the Harrison Hotel, singing, shouting, and making more noise. They can't sit quiet. They can't sit still. When do they think? DO they think?" [Concerning Keats' "Ode to a Grecian Urn":] "Now I think I know what that John Keats fellow means about truth. Once the truth is all laid out in front of you and everybody else and the whole world to see, truth good and bad, it IS a sight to behold, and that sight might be where beauty lies sleeping."

"...No-Bob" is also a book about love - faithful and courageous - and about developing the courage to be true to yourself, while being able to see the value of the greater good in your actions. Highly recommended for ages 10-15 and for adults, too!

"Living Sunlight: How Plants Bring The Earth To Life", by Molly Bang, Peggy Chisholm

An amazingly complex tale of earth's life cycle (photosynthesis) between plants and humans/animals, told simply and powerfully for young children (early elementary). Great for booktalking because the illustrations catch the eye and the text is straightforward and dynamic. The author's substantial notes at the end of the book give more detail, providing an apology for the over-simplification of photosynthesis, while it acknowledges other ways living things extract, split and exhale periodic elements. These illustrated notes are most appropriate for much older readers (ages 9-12), making this book a good pick for both the younger and the older set.

"Judy Moody Predicts the Future", by Megan McDonald

Judy Moody Predicts the Future" gives us a smart, modern girl's tale immersed in the sixties and seventies culture-hype of fortune telling, Mood Rings, and Magic 8 Balls. It feels right that Judy Moody would want to see the future and be the sole bearer of its message! In her curious way, she embarks on a quest to be the all important one. However, by the end she is capable of a mature understanding about truly reading the emotional signs and clues people give. She also comes to realize that we make our own future. A terrific read for boys and girls aged 7-10.

"Lawn Boy", by Gary Paulson

Clever way to insert an introduction to economics into an enjoyable summertime story about a boy and his grandpa's lawnmower. Lots of interesting characters...

"NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children", by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

"NurtureShock" is compulsory reading for those keenly interested in the inner workings of our brain. Vast new brain research from the past decade, done with MRI scans, shows exactly how and where our brain turns on to function in relation to most things: sleep, speech, visual learning, playing video games, receiving praise, etc. The book analyzes that research, stressing how biological processing is the foremost factor we should consider when trying to understand how children behave and learn. If we better understand how our brain functions in relation to age, sex, and task, then we are in a better position to teach and mentor our children - to guide them down the right path. I especially liked the chapters on speech/language development, the inverse effects of praise and the explanation of the dopamine "reward center", the benefits of constructive arguments, and the quantitative effects of sleep deprivation. Great read for teachers and parents.

"Elephant's Story", by Harriett Blackford

The simple, warm and fuzzy illustrations add to the charm of this picture book. "Elephant's Story" accomplishes two things: calms and comforts children with its emphasis on a mother's love, a family's protection and care, and shows children that an elephant herd is a close-knit family. The author's end notes teach kids about the elephant's status as an endangered species and give many facts about the three kinds of elephants. The notes (appropriate for ages 6-8) speak to a slightly older audience than the text of the book does (for pre-k through grade 1).

"Sandy's Circus: A Story About Alexander Calder", by Tanya Lee Stone

I love books that talk about a famous person's humble beginnings in a way that kids can understand. Most know Alexander Calder's art to be important in the 20th Century museum context, but how many know that he invented the mobile, and "stabiles" (enormous metal sculptures)? Likewise, that he rose to fame by creating and exhibiting a traveling miniature, metal 3-D circus of working, moving "children's theatre" that was appreciated by both children and adults alike? Great colorful illustrations with movement and detail - perfect for booktalking.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Carole King and James Taylor Troubador Reunion Concert - July 19, 2010, Oracle Arena

Monday night, Carole King and James Taylor proved that they've retained their musical charisma! We were treated to bluesy, soulful, playful, heartfelt musical energy! A once in a lifetime experience, seeing these two legendary singer/songwriters live! Their deep friendship was evident, and I really enjoyed the anecdotal banter about how or why a particular song was written, or how, while playing at the Los Angeles Troubadour Club 40 years ago, Taylor suggested that King write her own lyrics and record her own songs.  Many times, as an introduction to the next piece, Taylor payed tribute to King's songwriting talent by stating, "Another one of hers".  Here is a beautiful example of friendship that inspired one woman and one man to be their heartfelt, personal best - and changed the course of their professional lives and personal success.

The artists explained that they wanted to make the setting appear as like the Troubador Club, so they designed the closest seats as nightclub tables. Those premium seats raised $1.1 million dollars, split among their publicized charity, as well as Bay Area charities! There was a video screen way above the players, a sort of giant, circular lampshade shape that projected colorful graphics or videos from the past, in keeping with the theme of the songs. Occasionally, vintage photos of all the artists on stage appeared as well. That was a wonderful addition to the live experience!

Both artists poked fun at the fact it’s been a long time since their early success, stating they met back in 1903! They had several of their original studio recording group all playing together on this tour, and appreciated the fact they were together again. They opened with "Something in the Way She Moves", followed by "You're So Far Away", and the haunting narrative "Machine Gun".  Old favorites like "Shower the People" and "Mexico" followed soon after.  I loved Taylor's characterization of a few of their songs as "agnostic spirituals" (such as King's "Beautiful" and “Way Over Yonder”, and Taylor's "Country Road")! Taylor explained that “Sweet Baby James” was written from Boston to Carolina as he drove to meet his newborn nephew, James. He rendered "Steamroller" with comical physicality, in a light-hearted and fun manner - recreating his youthful attempts to project Muddy Waters and other blues artists' style. Of course, they played mainly from “Tapestry” and Taylor’s “Greatest Hits”, but their other selections were fantastic!  For example, King did a wonderful rendition of her ‘70’s hit “Jasmine”.

Overwhelming audience enthusiasm to King's "You Make Me Feel (Like a Natural Woman)" and "It's Too Late" showed just how deeply these songs reflect the tapestry of the human experience. King briefly told of her youthful marriage to Goffen and their early songwriting success together. Then she began speaking of 1970, when she recorded “Tapestry”, allowing the audience to feel that nothing in the middle years compared to the experience of making her own, first album.

King and Taylor sang several moving duets, including King’s songs “Up on a Roof” and “Crying in the Rain” (a hit by the Everly Brothers). They were especially tender with their (slower tempo) rendition of "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow". The audience didn't want them to leave at the end of the show, and brought them back for two more songs. Applause continued, and Taylor hailed one more tune together, a sweet, friendship song, about remembering our time together, singing the song once we've left, and "staying as long as you like". At the close, the end of their tour, there were tears in King's eyes as she hugged Taylor. It was an unforgettable evening of music from two very memorable artists.