Tag Archives: A Words Look

A Words Look: KEEPING SCORE by Linda Sue Park

 

Last September, I was lucky enough to host a special Twitter chat on #mglitchat about the three middle reader books selected for the 2017 Global Read Aloud program. The three books are spectacular and I highly recommend all of them. The books were FENWAY AND HATTIE by Victoria Coe, THE WILD ROBOT by Peter Brown, and A LONG WALK TO WATER by Linda Sue Park. We were fortunate to also have Jim Averbeck, who did the original illustrations for A LONG WALK TO WATER, join us.The chat was so much fun and could have easily gone twice the allotted time of one hour. These creators, besides being immensely talented, are just great human beings. It was a highlight of my 2017, that is for sure.

About a week after the chat, a package arrived in the mail from New York. It was from Linda Sue Park. I anxiously ripped open the package and found a copy of her book, KEEPING SCORE! I was cartwheeling-across-the-dining-room floor happy. I knew Linda Sue was a baseball fan from our interactions on Twitter and in correspondences prior to the chat. In particular, I knew she was a New York Mets fan (a team which, I may remind everyone, was nobly defeated in the 2015 World Series by my team, the Kansas City Royals!).

I finally had an opening in research reading to squeeze in KEEPING SCORE over the holiday. It’s a great baseball book for young readers! Set in 1950’s New York City, she weaves a great story from the threads of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the rabid local fandoms for “Dem Bums”, the Giants, and the Yankees, scoring a baseball game, and the Korean War. If you have a young baseball fan in your life, you might set this title in front of them, or try one from this list I compiled at From the Mixed-Up Files…of Middle-Grade Authors blog.

Below is one of my favorite excerpts from the book. It’s when the Maggie, the young Dodgers fan, is learning to score a baseball game from the new guy—and Giants fan—Jim, down at the local firehouse.

From KEEPING SCORE by Linda Sue Park, 2008, Clarion Books.

          By the end of the game, Maggie knew how the defense was numbered. Not their uniform numbers, but their position numbers. Jim tore a sheet out of the back of the notebook so she could write it down to study at home.

1-pitcher
2-catcher
3-first base
4-second base
5-third base
6-shortstop
7-left field
8-center field
9-right field

          Jim also showed her what the numbers in the little squares meant. They told what each batter had done. “4-3” written in the square opposite the batter’s name meant that a ground ball had been hit to the second baseman (4) who had thrown it to the first baseman (3) for the out.          

          Jim could look at his score sheet and see exactly what had happened in any inning. Which was way better than just keeping it in your head, because when you were trying to remember what happened in a game, only the big exciting plays came to mind. But Maggie knew that baseball was often a game of little things—the pitcher falling behind in the count, the good throw to keep a runner from advancing, the slide to break up a double play—and those were hard to keep track of. Jim’s score sheet didn’t have every single thing written down, but the things that were there could really help you remember.

Great stuff, hey? With baseball season just around the corner, how about filling the dark days of winter with baseball reads?

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A Words Look: Intro to Baba O’Riley

I was just fiddle-farting around at work on a Friday morning a few months ago, listening to John in the Morning on the KEXP stream and organizing the experiments for the day. John Richards played Baba O’Riley from The Who mixed in with the usual eclectic music KEXP is famous for. At KEXP, they run a real-time playlist on the web feed that has a section for DJ notes about the song playing. Most of the time, these notes are information about shows the currently played band is playing in the Pacific Northwest or links to their archived KEXP In-Studio performances. There’s often also an odd song fact or two the DJ gleans from the internet about the song or artists.

KEXP DJ Notes on Baba O’Riley by The Who, John Richards Friday, October 13, 2017:

“Good morning and a very happy Friday. When The Who perform this live, the processed organ is played from a recording, since it would be nearly impossible to replicate on an instrument. The guitar doesn’t come in until 1:40, giving Pete Townshend some time to reflect on his work. “There is this moment of standing there just listening to this music and looking out to the audience and just thinking, ‘I f–king did that. I wrote that,” he told Rolling Stone. “I just hope that on my deathbed I don’t embarrass myself by asking someone, ‘Can you pass me my guitar? And will you run the backing tape of ‘Baba O’Riley’? I just want to do it one more time.”

As a writer, this particular quote from Pete Townshend hits home.

“I f–ing did that. I wrote that.”

By Impm at en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

There are many times when artists of all ways, shapes, and forms need “I f–ing did that.” as much as they need food or water. It is something creative people need to carry around with them as their weapon of defense when hit by self-doubt and creative panic. We need to step back, take a few deep breaths, and observe what we have created. Look or listen to what we’ve created and take a few moments to appreciate our own work. As creators, we occasionally need to be inspired by the fact we’ve created something wonderful before and use that to gather the artistic confidence to produce a new and wonderful work.

Here is a relatively recent live video of The Who performing Baba O’Riley. I chose this particular video over the dozens of other live performances of this classic song not because it’s any better than the other versions but because it shows the band’s age. It shows that old guys can still rock and roll.

Never stop creating. Step back every once in a while and appreciate what you’ve done. Take this moment to tell yourself, “I f–ing did that.” And then go out and create some more. Believe me, the world needs your work.

 

 

A Words Look: “Southern Accents” by Tom Petty

Tom Petty’s death was one of those deaths that sneak up on you and knocks you off the rails. He was one of those artists who were so damn good you hardly knew he was there. His constancy was so ingrained into the musical world since the mid-1970’s it was almost like the reliability of the ground under our feet or the sky above our heads. Tom Petty was that good.

Damn the Torpedoes was a game changer for a 15-year-old kid in 1979. Almost every song resonated with me. The power of a song and a lyric and the stories he told in his music, especially the stories he told in underdog songs like, “Even the Losers”. Everyman stories, for every man, by an everyman.

Over the years, this song “Southern Accents” has become a favorite. It is a powerful song about knowing where you come from, overcoming where you come from, and living a life that shines with the best of where you came from. Basically, it comes down to a song which I can closely relate too. 

From an interview with Billboard

“The radio has so many rules, and songs don’t. You don’t necessarily write to a rule book, unless you’re like just doing it professionally, which has never been my thing. I just like a lot of songs. ‘Southern Accents,’ I think that’s one of my best, really. That would have been 1984 and I wrote that on the piano in the studio at home, I had a studio and I just happened to be down there in the middle of the night, it was quite late, probably early morning, and I just started to play and a song just started to appear.

I’d work on the first verse, and I’d get it, and then I’d just go bit by bit. But the breakthrough of that song was the middle eight, the bridge. When I got to the bridge I realized, ‘Now we’re talking, I’ve got something happening here.’ And when I was done with it I was extremely excited. There’s nothing like that feeling of having just written a song that you know is ‘the song’ and you know it’s really great and you can’t wait to share it with people, you can’t wait to record it.”

I first heard “Southern Accents” on the groundbreaking Johnny Cash Unchained, American II album (which is a GREAT record if you’ve never heard it.). It is one of those songs Johnny Cash covers and absolutely makes it his. Cash owns this song like he did so many of the songs he covered late in his life. Tom Petty’s original is absolutely fabulous but The Man in Black takes it to another level.

“Southern Accents”

By Tom Petty

There’s a southern accent, where I come from
The young ‘uns call it country, the Yankees call it dumb
I got my own way of talking, but everything gets done
With a southern accent, where I come from

Now that drunk tank in Atlanta is just a motel room to me
Think I might go work Orlando if them orange groves don’t freeze
Got my own way of working, but everything is run
With a southern accent, where I come from

For just a minute there I was dreaming
For just a minute it was all so real
For just a minute she was standing there, with me

There’s a dream I keep having, where my momma comes to me
And kneels down over by the window, and says a prayer for me
Got my own way of praying, but everyone’s begun
With a southern accent, where I come from

Got my own way of living, but everything gets done
With a southern accent, where I come from

Here’s a live Tom Petty version that is very good:

Here’s Johnny Cash’s version of “Southern Accents”:

A Words Look: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

I read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow at least once a year, preferably in the month of October when the winds turn chill and the leaves fall and swirl in our path. There have been cartoons, movies and shortened version of this story that are very entertaining in their own right, but none compare to the original bestowed upon us by Washington Irving. In a day of age where we rush and run and squeeze activity after activity into our lives, it’s a fine thing to be able to turn to Irving and disappear into his stories and settings. His descriptions, which may be considered verbose by today’s standards, transport the reader back into another space and time. In The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, he does this masterfully. I always feel like I’m walking down a Hudson Valley path listening to the narrator tell this tale while he points out the Van Tassel home, the schoolhouse, the churchyard, and the wooden bridge.

Here is the opening of the story in all its glory. I hope it entices you to have a read or reread of the whole tale this week in the spirit of the roaming spirits of the season. You can find the eBook file here to download. 

Have a safe and happy Halloween!

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

In the bosom of one of those spacious coves which indent the eastern
shore of the Hudson, at that broad expansion of the river denominated by
the ancient Dutch navigators the Tappan Zee, and where they always
prudently shortened sail and implored the protection of St. Nicholas when they crossed, there lies a small market town or rural port, which by
some is called Greensburgh, but which is more generally and properly
known by the name of Tarry Town. This name was given, we are told, in
former days, by the good housewives of the adjacent country, from the
inveterate propensity of their husbands to linger about the village tavern
on market days. Be that as it may, I do not vouch for the fact, but merely
advert to it, for the sake of being precise and authentic. Not far from this
village, perhaps about two miles, there is a little valley or rather lap of
land among high hills, which is one of the quietest places in the whole
world. A small brook glides through it, with just murmur enough to lull
one to repose; and the occasional whistle of a quail or tapping of a
woodpecker is almost the only sound that ever breaks in upon the
uniform tranquillity.

I recollect that, when a stripling, my first exploit in squirrel-shooting was
in a grove of tall walnut-trees that shades one side of the valley. I had
wandered into it at noontime, when all nature is peculiarly quiet, and
was startled by the roar of my own gun, as it broke the Sabbath stillness
around and was prolonged and reverberated by the angry echoes. If ever
I should wish for a retreat whither I might steal from the world and its
distractions, and dream quietly away the remnant of a troubled life, I
know of none more promising than this little valley.

From the listless repose of the place, and the peculiar character of its
inhabitants, who are descendants from the original Dutch settlers, this
sequestered glen has long been known by the name of Sleepy Hollow,
and its rustic lads are called the Sleepy Hollow Boys throughout all the
neighboring country. A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the
land, and to pervade the very atmosphere. Some say that the place was
bewitched by a High German doctor, during the early days of the
settlement; others, that an old Indian chief, the prophet or wizard of his
tribe, held his powwows there before the country was discovered by
Master Hendrick Hudson. Certain it is, the place still continues under the
sway of some witching power, that holds a spell over the minds of the
good people, causing them to walk in a continual reverie. They are given
to all kinds of marvellous beliefs, are subject to trances and visions, and
frequently see strange sights, and hear music and voices in the air. The
whole neighborhood abounds with local tales, haunted spots, and
twilight superstitions; stars shoot and meteors glare oftener across the
valley than in any other part of the country, and the nightmare, with her
whole ninefold, seems to make it the favorite scene of her gambols.

The dominant spirit, however, that haunts this enchanted region, and
seems to be commander-in-chief of all the powers of the air, is the
apparition of a figure on horseback, without a head. It is said by some to
be the ghost of a Hessian trooper, whose head had been carried away by
a cannon-ball, in some nameless battle during the Revolutionary War,
and who is ever and anon seen by the country folk hurrying along in the
gloom of night, as if on the wings of the wind. His haunts are not
confined to the valley, but extend at times to the adjacent roads, and
especially to the vicinity of a church at no great distance. Indeed, certain
of the most authentic historians of those parts, who have been careful in
collecting and collating the floating facts concerning this spectre, allege
that the body of the trooper having been buried in the churchyard, the
ghost rides forth to the scene of battle in nightly quest of his head, and
that the rushing speed with which he sometimes passes along the
Hollow, like a midnight blast, is owing to his being belated, and in a
hurry to get back to the churchyard before daybreak.

Such is the general purport of this legendary superstition, which has
furnished materials for many a wild story in that region of shadows; and
the spectre is known at all the country firesides, by the name of the
Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow.

By w:Emanuel Leutze – http://archive.org/details/legendofsleepyho05irvi, Public Domain

 

 

 

A Words Look: John Henry by Bruce Springsteen

I’ve always been drawn to the legend of John Henry. Man vs. machine. Hammer and steel. Muscle and determination. JH is like a magnet to quiet, big guys like myself. One of the first books I remember was the Ezra Keats version of the legend. I think it was the cover that caught me. John Henry is such an inspiration in my life, I’m working on a new middle grade story built around him and other American legends.

I also remember the Ballad of John Henry song. Magical. This version from Bruce Springsteen & The Seeger Sessions Band is one of the best out there. In fact, The Seeger Sessions is a great piece of work by a great artist. Here are the lyrics and a live performance video from The Boss.

John Henry

Well John Henry was a little baby
Sittin’ on his daddy’s knee
He picked up a hammer and
a little piece of steel
And cried, “Hammer’s gonna
be death of me, Lord, Lord
Hammer’s gonna be the death of me”

Now the captain he
said to John Henry
“I’m gonna bring that
steam drill around
I’m gonna bring that
steam drill out on these tracks
I’m gonna knock that
steel on down, God, God
I’m gonna knock that
steel on down”

John Henry told his captain
“Lord a man ain’t noth‘ but a man
But before I let that steam drill
beat me down
I’m gonna die with a hammer
in my hand, Lord, Lord
I’ll die with a hammer in my hand”

John Henry driving
on the right side
That steam drill driving
on the left
Says, “Fore I let your
steam drill beat me down
I’m gonna hammer
myself to death, Lord, Lord,
I’ll hammer my fool self to death”

Well captain said to John Henry
“What is that storm I hear?”
John Henry said, “That
ain’t no storm captain
That’s just my hammer
in the air, Lord, Lord
That’s just my hammer in the air”

John Henry said to his shaker
“Shaker, why don’t you sing?
Cause I’m swingin’ thirty pounds
from my hips on down
Yeah, listen to my cold steel
ring, Lord Lord

Listen to my cold steel ring”

John Henry he hammered
in the mountains
His hammer was striking fire
But he worked so hard;
it broke his heart
John Henry laid down his hammer
and died, Lord, Lord

John Henry laid down his hammer and died

Well, now John Henry
he had him a woman
By the name of Polly Ann
She walked out to those tracks
Picked up John Henry’s hammer
Polly drove steel like a man, Lord, Lord
Polly drove that steel like a man

Well every, every Monday morning
When a blue bird he began to sing
You could hear John Henry
from a mile or more
You could hear John Henry’s hammer
ring, Lord, Lord
You can hear John Henry’s hammer ring
I say, You can John Henry’s
hammer ring, Lord, Lord
You can John Henry’s
hammer ring

Live on, John Henry!

A Words Look: Hamlet, 4.5

I received a daily quote from my Shakespeare app which is usually the first thing I see on my phone in the morning and often the last things I see in the evening on my iPad. There are worse ways to start and finish a day than with The Bard.

“Lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be. ”                                      -Ophelia, Hamlet, 4.5

Reading and contemplating on this quote by Ophelia from Hamlet, I wonder if this is the perfect description of who we are as a nation. The United States of America is struggling with itself right now in 2017. We are a nation that has entered into its adolescent years. We’ve survived infancy, Independence and setting up a tremendous framework, called the Constitution, and struggled through our terrible two’s during the American Civil War.

Now that we are firmly in the adolescent period, we are struggling internally as a middle school or early high school kid might do. We may think we know  100% more than 99% of everyone else, especially the adults/parents and we often fly off the handle emotionally and physically. With a lack of disregard for the opinions and viewpoints of others, we continue to sludge through the muck, making mistakes, and moving further to opposite ends of the spectrum.

Things may seem crazy now, but we will work through this. We will grow as a nation into the fine young adult stage and maybe figure out a thing or two about ourselves as a nation along the way. The opposing forces in the U.S. currently driving at breakneck speeds away from each other will eventually realize it’s time to turn around and address each other because nobody likes running full speed into a wall.

Have hope America! As we mature as a nation, we may actually find out “what we may be”.

Thanks, Bill Shakespeare! You would have been a great American.

A Words Look: Gun by Uncle Tupelo

Although picking a favorite song by Uncle Tupelo is like picking one of your own children over the others, I have to say Gun, from the 1991 album, Still Feel Gone, sits slightly higher than the rest of their fantastic musical library. This song just rocks it. And that “Crawling back to you…” verse just rips a hole in your soul. Plus, it was written as a collaboration between the original members and perhaps a sign of the more harmonious days of the band.

250px-Uncle_Tupelo

I was sad and a little pissed off when Uncle Tupelo called it quits after their masterpiece 1993 album, Anodyne. Then you understand when you listen to Anodyne and hear the tension between Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar. You see the split in the songwriting and the sound of the songs. That tension was probably what made Anodyne so special. Almost beyond the realm of belief, Anodyne was recorded in two weeks and each song only took one take. Jay Farrar’s title song is beautiful and sad and haunting. I still listen to Anodyne from start to finish at least once a month. It is that good.

Out of the Uncle Tupelo ashes came two great bands as Farrar went his way with Son Volt and Tweedy started Wilco. Both debut albums, Trace and A.M., are fantastic records and Wilco continues to be one of my favorite bands. Jay Farrar’s song, Sultana, was the first I’d heard of the Civil War-era steamboat disaster and the song inspired me to find out more about the event, which led me to write my middle-grade historical fiction, Sultana Sinking.

Gun

Falling out the window
Tripping on a wrinkle in the rug
Falling out of love, dear
It hurt much worse when you gave up

Just don’t tell me which way I oughta run
Or what good I could do anyone
‘Cause my heart, it was a gun
But it’s unloaded now so don’t bother

Climbing up the ladder
Breaking my shin on the very first rung
Waking up the neighbors
It’s all right, they understand they’re just as dumb

And they don’t tell me which way I oughta run
Or what good I could do anyone
‘Cause my heart, it was a gun
But it’s unloaded now, so don’t bother me now, don’t bother

Crawling back to you now
I sold my guitar to the girl next door
She asked me if I knew how
I told her “I don’t think so anymore”

Don’t tell me which way I oughta run
What good could I do anyone
‘Cause my heart, it was a gun
But it’s unloaded now so don’t bother

Songwriters
JEFF TWEEDY, JAY FARRAR, MICHAEL HEIDORN
Published by
Lyrics © BMG RIGHTS MANAGEMENT US, LLC