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Archive for the ‘Mac Barnett’ Category

[LISTENED TO: Summer 2017] Danger Goes Berserk

After how much we loved Brixton Brothers Books 1 through 3 we were excited to get to Book #4 (which appears to be the final book since it has been six years, despite what was hinted at in the end).

However, there is no audio book!  No Arte Johnson guiding us through the mysteries of these teenage sleuths.  No one to say Rick (pause) Jerk.

Gasp.

So we did the next best thing.  S. read it to us on a long car ride.  This is second best because it’s exhausting for S. to read out loud for that long and to have the constant complaints of “can you turn it up” which makes me laugh every time one of the kids says it.

It was great to be involved with Steve Brixton and his chum Dana once again.

The detectives are back (in Steve’s hilarious new office) and there are two cases to look into.  One is about surfing.

The other is about… gym shorts.

Someone has been stealing Brody Owen’s gym shorts.  Brody even paid Steve to take the case.  But Steve doesn’t want to take it.  Both because it’s stupid and because he’s got more important, bigger cases to deal with. (more…)

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two-worse  SOUNDTRACK: CHEICK HAMALA DIABATEN-Tiny Desk Concert #285 (July 6, 2013).

hamalaNPR Music has been the sole source of my exposure to music from Mali.  I have really grown to like its slightly unusual patterns which are all based on a fairly standard rock structure.  But unlike some of the other Mali musicians I’ve been exposed to, Diabaten does not play guitar.  He plays banjo and the ngoni (but there is plenty of guitar in the song too).

The blurb tells us

Malian tradition lies at the heart and foot-stomping soul of Cheick Hamala Diabate and his band, but their melodies and undeniable rhythms cut across age and ethnicity. Diabate primarily plays the ngoni and the banjo; think of the ngoni as a great-grandfather to the banjo and it all makes sense, because both instruments share the ability to convey melody and plucked percussive rhythm.

Diabate is from Kita in Mali and born into a family of griots, or storytellers; his first cousin is the legendary kora player Toumani Diabate. Cheick Hamala Diabate makes his home these days in a Maryland suburb a few miles over the D.C. line, and his musicians are American-born and inspired by this lively lyrical music, which often tells a tale about Mali and its people as part of the sway and shake.

“Mali De Nou” sounds fairly traditional–with all of the percussion.  And then about a minute and half in a noisy scratchy guitar solo plays over all of the music–a very Mali sound.  But it’s interesting that, for the beginning anyhow, Diabate isn’t doing all that much.  In fact, the song feels almost overwhelmed by percussion (but in a good way). There’s a shaker or two, big floor drums (congas?) and a drum held between the knees and there’s even that big round gourd drum.

There’s also a sax and a bass, the lead guitar and of course, Cheick’s banjo.  By the middle of the song,  Chieck does some lead banjo playing.  And then it sounds like he’s put some effects on the banjo making it sound almost like a kettle drum—he even plays the strings below the bridge.  He really gets a lot of cool sounds out of the instrument

After this song he chats briefly and wants to “Invite you guys to visit Mali, it’s a beautiful country, you’ll be more happy.”

For “Talcamba” he switches to the ngoni.  He explains that the original ngoni had 4 strings, but his has 7 so he can play…more.  This instrument can play reggae, salsa, everything.  This is when he says the American banjo is like the grandson of ngoni.

Tacamba is a dance from north Mali—you can move your body (he waves his arms).  There are vocals but they are mostly a chanted refrain   The solo on the ngoni isn’t a conventional solo, it’s him flicking the strings making a very interesting sound.  I could have used more close-ups of this instrument as you could barely see the strings, and I’d love to see how he fit 7 on that small neck.  Half way through the song it shifts gears and the tempo really picks up—there’s a fast guitar solo with all that percussion keeping up.  And then the percussionist puts down her shaker and starts dancing in the center of the room.  It feels inspired and impromptu and it’s a lot of fun to watch.  While she’s doing that, Cheick picks up a hand drum and starts creating a new rhythm.  It is joyful and celebratory.

For the final song, “Djire Madje,” he switches to acoustic guitar which he plays lefty upside down (so the high notes are at the top).  He plays the lead riff.  At one point the electric guitar is also playing a lead but in a very different styles and they work very well together.

[READ: October 10, 2016] The Terrible Two Get Worse

I really enjoyed The Terrible Two, and this sequel is just as enjoyable.  The pranks are bigger, but the victim has changed.  Why?

Because Niles Sparks’ and Miles Murphy’s pranks got their principal fired!

Principal Barkin was the perfect guy to play a prank on–he had no sense of humor, he was pretty jerky and his face got really purple when he was upset.  But Principal Barkin is nothing compared to his father.  We met his father in the previous book–he yelled a lot, especially at Principal Barkin.  You see, the principal’s father was the previous principal, and he was a tough guy–he took no guff from anyone.

So after a delicious opening prank, Niles and Miles set about to making a great prank on Photo Day.  One of the great things about these books is the illustrations (by Kevin Cornell).  Sometimes the text incorporates the illustrations into the story. Like with Picture Day–the hilariously bad “pictures” absolutely make the sequence.  But it’s what they do to Principal Barkin’s son (who has paid the extra $10 for a gray background) is frankly genius.

But even better is what they have done to the whole school photo– a prank many months in the making.

(more…)

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two SOUNDTRACK: MOHAMMAD REZA SHAJARIAN-Tiny Desk Concert #276 (May 20, 2013).

rejaI had never heard of Mohammad Reza Shajarian, but I see that he was voted one of NPR’s 50 Great Voices.

With the visit of the incredible, honey-voiced Mohammad Reza Shajarian from Iran, we lucked out by having him sing on not just any day, but on the biggest holiday of the Persian calendar: Nowruz, the New Year.

Shajarian is accompanied by brothers Sohrab and Tahmoures Pournazeri (celebrated musicians in their own right) and French percussionist Robin Vassy.

They play one song, an improvised piece called “Az Eshgh (Love Song).”  There is an upright, bowed instrument, the Kamancheh which plays the lead melody for much of the song.  The rest of the music comes from the Tar, one of the most important musical instruments in Iran and the Caucasus.  It has a rather tinny sound.

Meanwhile, the drummer has several different gourd drums.  He hits one with his fist and scratches the notches on the side.  Around three and a half minutes in, he starts blowing into this whistle-like object that makes a wind sound.  He also has two gourds that are floating in water.  He takes one out and we can hear the dripping.  He gets almost two minutes of a solo to play all of these sounds.  Its very cool.

Interestingly, even though this Tiny Desk is all about Shajarian, he doesn’t sing all that much.  But when he does, it’s quite powerful.  As the blurb says:

In the course of this love song, titled “Az Eshgh,” Shajarian unleashed torrents of swooping, soaring, goosebump-inducing sound — still perfectly controlled at age 73.

[READ: September 20, 2016] The Terrible Two

I love Mac Barnett.  He’s one of my favorite children’s authors.  I only know Jory John a little but I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read by him.  There are also fantastic illustrations by Kevin Cornell to make this book a delightful story about pranksters.

The book opens in Yawnee Valley, a quiet place where cows are the main thing.  Literally.  They are everywhere–and you hear them mooing all day and night (and throughout the book).  Miles Murphy (the dark haired boy on the cover) is moving to Yawnee Valley.  And he is not happy.  He has already sighed 100 times that day.  He hates the thought of leaving his friends and starting a new school.

Page twelve lays out an excellent summary of what it’s like to be a new kid in a school.  What kid are you going to be?  chess kid? basketball kid?  front-row kid? kid who’s allowed to see R-rated movies?  Kid whose family doesn’t own a TV and just wants to watch your TV?  And so many more options.  But Miles knows who he is.  He’s the prankster.

But when he gets to school (this is the first day of school), someone has moved the principal’s car to the front of the stairs–blocking the front door. Looks like Yawnee Valley Science and Letters Academy already has a prankster.

The principle is Principal Barkin.  He loves being principal of the school, as his father and his father and his father and his father had been.  There was one embarrassment in the family chain of command–the principal who actually closed the school during a blizzard, but otherwise, their record was sound–no closures.  And Barkin’s own son was poised to become the principal as well. After all, he had been elected president the past two years–just as had all of his ancestors–president and then principal–that’s the plan.

But this first day of school was not a good day for Principal Barkin.  And Chapter 6 lists the 40 things that happened as soon as he found out that his car was blocking the main entrance (none of them were good for him).

Principal Barkin suspects and questions everyone for being responsible for doing this prank.  And when he sees Miles–the only child he doesn’t recognize–he automatically assumes he is guilty.  Miles assures him that he didn’t do it.  Principal Barkin says okay but he will have his eyes on him.

Barkin then gives him a book called 1,346 Interesting Things You May or May Not Know About Cows.  He also gives Miles a buddy.  The buddy is named Niles.  He is dressed in a blazer with a sash that reads “school helper.”  The introduction goes like this: “Niles is the student who first told me abut my car.  Miles is the student who I suspect moved it.”

Niles is the most cheerful, obnoxious child Miles has every seen.  And he will not let up.  Niles introduces Miles to people (like Holly the girl who sits next to him).  He states the obvious.  And he tells Miles about Josh Barkin, the Principal’ son.  And boy is Josh a jerk.  Josh intentionally hits Miles in the face with his backpack as he walks by.

Niles says “while i don’t want to call anyone the worst, Josh is pretty mean sometimes…also he really likes the word nimbus for some reason.” (Josh calls everyone a nimbus as an insult).

Another kid who makes a lot of noise and is used mostly for comic effect is Stuart, Stuart talks in all caps and really really states the obvious.  Everyone hates him.

Miles is still pretty bummed about someone else being the school prankster.  But when Josh comes over in the cafeteria to give him a hard time, Miles deliberately dumps his food all over himself and then manages to blame Josh.  Josh says he didn’t do it, but Niles supports Miles.  When Miles asks why he would lie for him, Niles says that Josh made him swallow a rock over the summer–twice.

Miles gets home an has a kind of rough night.  So doe Principal Barkin whose father calls to yell at him for the embarrassment of his school day.  But while Bakin is beaten down, Miles is inspired.  And he comes out with his greatest prank ever.

The awesome birthday party of a boy he just made up, Cody Burr-Tyler.  The plan?  Make the party secret, tell only a few people and then watch everyone show up with presents.

It’s a great plan and it works.  And just as he is about to reap his rewards, Cody Burr-Tyler shows up and steals the show.  What just happened?

I don’t want to spoil who the prankster is.  He is impressed by Miles but sees some serious flaws.

Like the birthday party–did Miles really think he could fool the entire class and walk away with a bunch of presents and have people still like him?  He had to learn to be subtle.

And so the prankster offers to let him join forces to become a great pranking team.  But there is no way Miles is going to join forces with HIM.  So instead, Miles challenges him to a prank battle.

And the rest of the book is a series of escalating pranks.  The whipped cream one is outdistancing as is the diorama double cross (everything about the plan is genius–on both sides).

Can these two join forces to torment the person who most needs some comeuppance?  (Yes).  But what can they do that will really be a spectacular prank that people will talk about for years?

I was surprised and delighted by the final prank and I love the way they pulled it off.

I’m really looking forward to book two.

 

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[LISTENED TO: August 2015] The Organist Season 1

organistGiven my love of the McSweeney’s empire, it seems logical that I would have listened to The Organist sooner than this.  But I didn’t.  It has been on for a couple of years, so i assumed I’d never catch up.  But then I saw that there were only 50 episodes and most of them were quite short.  So it was time to see what it was all about.

And, since it is more or less in conjunction with The Believer, it should come as no surprise that it is sort of an aural equivalent to that magazine–longish pieces about esoteric subject, but geared specifically to “radio.”

The Organists first season was done as a monthly podcast starting on Feb 1.  Each episode was about 50 minutes long and covered a variety of subjects with fun guests and other ephemera.

Episode 1: (February 1, 2013)
The inaugural episode kicks off with Nick Offerman spouting some hilarious nonsense about podcasts.  The rest of the show includes an interview with George Saunders talking about the voices of his fiction; Greil Marcus discusses the impact of the first Bikini Kill EP now that it is reissued.  Perhaps the most unusual and interesting piece is when Amber Scorah tells the story of her defection from the Jehovah’s Witnesses while working as a missionary in Shanghai; In short pieces, Brandon Stosuy editor of Pitchfork, presents five five-word record reviews of interesting new guitar rock and then musicians Matmos take a song from their new album apart, piece by piece, revealing its brilliant, pulsating innards.  Basically they used thought control to get people to “create” a song for them.  It’s a really neat process even if the final result doesn’t really sound like the sum of its parts. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: October 15, 2014] Whales on Stilts

whalesWhen this book came out it was hugely popular in my library.  I was very curious about the title–it’s crazy, right?  But I had no real sense of what the book was about (I wasn’t even sure if it was meant to be funny or a drama–it was on every reading list of that year but who knew why).  Well, had I ever looked at the book carefully I would have known it was a comedy and I would have realized that it was exactly the kind of comedy that I love.

This book is part one in Anderson’s Pals in Peril series.  I believe the series shares characters, but I’m not sure if it is necessary to read them in order (we’ll find out when we listen to Book 2 next week).  Of course there are more than three characters in this book, but the three main characters are: Jasper Dash, Boy Technonaut! and star of his own adventure series; Katie Mulligan, star of her own horror books series Horror Hollow; and Lily Gefelty, a girl who is friends with both of them.

What is wonderful about the book is that the narrator describes Lily as being remarkably unremarkable.  She hides behind her bangs, doesn’t want to be the center of attention and is grateful that her two superfriends have known her for longer than they have been famous.  And what is doubly wonderful is that Lily is the catalyst for solving the major crisis that is about to hit her town.  In fact, Lily is the first one to even suspect that anything is awry. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: March 30, 2013] Knucklehead

knuckleheadWe were looking for a good audio book for the kids and I stumbled upon this, an autobiography from Jon Scieszka.  We love Scieszka’s books (Stinky Cheese Man and the Time Warp Trio among others) and figured that this autobiography had to be good for a few laughs too.  And we were very much correct.

This is a funny book about what it was like to grow up as the second oldest of six brothers in Flint, Michigan.  It’s not really about being an author (although he does talk about where he gets ideas), it’s really about his childhood.  Most of the anecdotes in the book are things that he and his brothers got up to and how his father used to affectionately call all six of them knuckleheads.

The book has almost 40 chapters, all of them very short (as befitting the author of books for reluctant readers).  And each one has a pretty good set up and punchline.  Like how the older brothers used to tease the youngest ones or how Jon and his brother burnt a dry cleaning bag because it dropped little plastic bombs onto a battlefield–in the basement.  Or how he and his brother peed on the space heater because they thought that would put it out (that seems suspect, but it could have happened. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: December 2012] It Happened on a Train

brixton3After the raging success of Brixton Brothers Books 1 and 2 we were thrilled to get to Book 3.

Twelve-year old Steve Brixton has given up on being a detective.  His hero, the author of the Bailey Brothers mysteries has proven to be a thief and a liar and he wants nothing to do with the man anymore.  So he has bundled all of his Bailey Brothers books–his favorite books in the world–and put them in the trash.

His chum, Dana, is not that upset about the closing of the agency, especially since he has now been dating a girl named Dana (“other Dana” as Steve calls her).  Other Dana has gotten Dana into a book series about wizards and dragons which Steve simply cannot believe.

This 3rd novel proves to adhere well to the title–it does all happen on a train.  Well, most of it anyhow.  The boys have been invited to the Model U.N. meeting in San Diego.  After last book’s fake debate club ruse, Steve’s mother is very suspicious of the Model U.N., especially since no one has ever heard of it.  [It turns out that my school had a model U.N., but most of us had no idea what they did either–imagine my surprise to see that very organization appear in an episode of Community!]  The story checks out and Rick (jerk) takes this as an opportunity to bond with Stevie Brix (what, you don’t get it) by tagging along for the nine-hour train ride.

Before the train ride gets underway, Steve is approached by a surfer dude who is looking for help.  Steve hears the man’s case but tells him that he has retired (a recurring joke).  It took us a while to get to the end of the story and we had all but completely forgotten about this plot point by the time we got to the end.

Anyhow, on the train, Steve winds up talking to a girl, Claire, whose uncle is a private detective.  The girl is nice but thinks it doesn’t make sense that 12-year-old Steve is retired.  Steve is annoyed by her, and has mixed feelings about her.  But he sees that she has left her book behind, so he finds her to give it back.  But she is nowhere to be seen. (more…)

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