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Archive for the ‘Set at School’ Category

dec2016SOUNDTRACK: BUDDY MILLER & JIM LAUDERDALE-Tiny Desk Concert #275 (May 13, 2013).

buddyjimBuddy Miller & Jim Lauderdale are apparently legendary players, but I’ve never heard of either of them. So the blurb tells us:

Buddy Miller is the guitar player to hire if you’re playing heartfelt, not-so-shiny country-rock songs.  Jim Lauderdale writes award-winning country songs. He’ll once again host the Americana Music Awards alongside Miller, with whom he shares a radio show on Sirius XM’s Outlaw Country Channel; that’s where the corny humor comes in.

There’s something endearing, old-timey and almost vaudevillian about Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale — even the way they bill themselves as “Buddy and Jim.” Both veteran musicians are in love with country music in all its many forms and influences; their music incorporates the blues and bluegrass, rock ‘n’ roll and a good deal of craft.  The songs they performed, at NPR’s offices and on the album, have titles like “I Lost My Job [insert pregnant pause here] of Loving You.” Some good fun to be had at the expense of heartbreak and life’s loves, both lost and found.

They are indeed funny and charming.  They both play guitar and the rest of the band includes fiddle, upright bass and a mailing tub for percussion.

Jim is the corny comedian.  He says he doesn’t have his contacts in—how’s everybody up there in the balcony?   Bob asks if either you guys have had a desk job.  Jim says, kind of, he was messenger at Rolling Stone (not a bike messenger).   And then he jokes that he had to do some firing of people—and he makes an exaggerated attempt at firing someone in the audience.

Besides the goofiness, they do play three fairly traditional-sounding country songs.  “The Train That Carried My Gal From Town” sounds very old timey country (compete with thick singing accents).  “It Hurts Me” was written by Buddy’s wife.  It’s a slow country ballad.

After the second song, Jim says, “Were having such a  good time up here, we’re gonna stay all day long.”  Buddy jumps in “That’s what George Jones” says all the time and then he plays one more song and leaves.  The final song is  “I Lost My Job Of Loving You”  my favorite of the three because it’s a little more rocking sounding.

[READ: February 25, 2017] “A System from the North”

This was the second story from Ohlin that I’ve read recently.

I liked the other story but I really liked this one a lot.

It is a strange little story about a woman who is “teaching” in a school.  I put teaching is in quotes because this is a school with its own Philosophy. as in “they went outside every day, regardless of the weather; it was part of the Philosophy.”

The teacher is outside with the kids when she notices that the boy in the blue coat is not there.  She counts the kids, but the fifth child simply isn’t there.

She takes the children inside and then gets inside her head about where the boy may have gone. (more…)

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luchSOUNDTRACK: CRISTINA PATO-Tiny Desk Concert #305 (September 21, 2013).

patoI didn’t know who Cristina Pato was or what instrument she played.  So when the show started (without visuals), I assumed she was the accordionist (because the show starts with some wild accordion music).  But in fact, Pato is playing the bagpipe.  Pato’s instrument is the gaita, a Galician bagpipe, and her roots lie in traditional Galician music — though she also boasts graduate degrees in classical piano, music theory and electronic composition.

I love the sound she band gets together with the funky staccato accordion notes and the wild racing pipes.  They are very jazzy and very idiosyncratic.  Her percussionist uses several different types of drums—the ubiquitous box drum and a hand held drum as well as various shakers and other sound makers.

They play three songs.  It’s interesting how much of the first song is taken up without the bagpipes—there’s lenghy sections where the accordion has the floor and she is just happily dancing around.  And the accordionist is amazing.  he plays all kinds of different styles and gets an amazing range of sounds out of that one instrument. He wails!  Of course I see now that the song is actually written by the accordionist: “Victor Prieto: ‘Mundos Celtas.'”  So it’s no wonder that she is happy to sit back and let him shine.  (Prieto , like Pato, is a native of the town of Orense in Galicia).  While he is playing, she whoops and hollers to get everyone pumped.  But once she gets her instruments going she is a nonstop blur of fingers and wild notes.  I particularly like that she has a section where the note is slightly flat and she continues to slowly raise it until it gets in pitch.  I also love–due to the nature of the bag pipes–that she can scream and whoops while still pressing air out of the bags.  And at the end of the song, she is just wild with fast notes.  It’s a very intense piece.

The second piece “Traditional/Cristina Pato: “Alalá Re-rooted” starts with her singing.  She is unmiked so you can’t really hear her, but I don’t really enjoy her singing as much as her playing so it’s okay.  I do love the interesting sounds the percussionist Shane Shanahan (Shanahan is American, but is also a longtime member (with Pato) of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble) is making.  Overall, this is a fairly dissonant piece—with her sounding almost like a free jazz players (but on pipes rather than sax).  I do love near the end where she almost seems to get a harmonic overtone on the pipe.  It’s a great moment—but fairly weird how the song just sort of fades away before seguing into the final song.

Victor Prieto & Emilio Solla: “Muñeira For Cristina” this song seems to be all about percussion with lots of drumming and a very noisy tambourine that Pato plays.  She gets the crowd clapping along and then  when she and Prieto play the same awesome riff together,it sounds great.  I love watching her shake the finger part while she’s playing it, to get a cool almost whammy bar sound out of it.  The song totally rocks and the whole set with the unlikely combo of accordion and bagpipe is startlingly wonderful.

[READ: April 20, 2016] Comics Squad: Lunch!

I really enjoyed the first Comics Squad book and I was delighted that a second one came out.  I just recently saw that a third one is coming out the summer–I love that it is called Detention and is coming out on Independence Day.

Like the first collection, this one is edited by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (Babymouse/Squish) and Jarrett J.  Krosoczka (Lunch Lady).

But the rest of the line up is quite different this time around, which is cool–allowing other artists to shine.  This time there are stories from Cece Bell (El Deafo) ; Jason Shiga (a great indie artist who does some kid-friendly and some decidedly not kid friendly books) ; Cecil Castelucci & Sara Varon ; Jeffrey Brown and Nathan Hale (his own series of historical stories).

Like the previous book, the Holms and Krosoczka sprinkle the book with comments and interstitials from Babymouse and Lunch Lady. (more…)

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recessSOUNDTRACK: BUIKA-Tiny Desk Concert #298 (August 26, 2013).

buikaI had never heard of Buika before, so I had to rely on the blurb:

Concha Buika’s voice doesn’t come from inside her petite body: It comes from Africa, and from the past. There are obvious traces of flamenco, itself a historical mash-up of the Moors and various transitory cultures in southern Spain and north Africa.

During her flights of improvisation, we also hear the influence of Cuban vocalist Celia Cruz, a product of Afro-Cuban culture, mixed in with Ella Fitzgerald, who was the pinnacle of African-American jazz vocal expression.

In these two performances, we hear Buika interpret her own lyrics after a handful of albums in which she’s interpreted others’ words. With her eyes closed tightly, she inhabits these poems of love and heartache as if she were reliving them again before our eyes.

Buika’s singular voice has attracted a cadre of fans who’ve become enchanted by her voice and her leave-it-all-on-the-stage performances in clubs and theaters around the world. Watch this video and join the club.

So as the notes say, these two pieces are improvisations.  Not knowing Spanish all that well, I don’t know how much is made up or even how much is just sounds rather than actual words.  But it certainly sounds more off the cuff than written out.

The music is just a piano and a box drum and her voice.  Her voice is raw and pained, but quite pretty.  The two songs are called “La Noche Mas Larga” and “La Nave Del Olvido.”

[READ: April 15, 2016] Comics Squad: Recess

I found out about this collection in the back of a Babymouse book.

Comics Squad is a collection of eight comics from some of my favorite artists.  It basically works as a bunch of short, shall we say graphic novellas, from Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (Babymouse/Squish) ; Jarrett J.  Krosoczka (Lunch Lady) ; Dav Pilkey (Captain Underpants) ; Dan Santat ; Raina Telgemeier and Dave Roman  (Smile and Astronaut Academy); Ursula Vernon (Dragonbreath) ; Eric Wright (Frankie Pickle) and Gene Luen Yang.

Since it’s edited by the Holms and Krosoczka they sprinkle the book with marginal comments and interstitials from Babymouse and Lunch Lady.  But each artist/author gets a story, and I enjoyed them all.

GENE LUEN YANG-“The Super-Secret Ninja Club”  This was a really fun story about a group of boys who meet at recess.  Once they know that noone is watching, they put on their masks and become the super-secret ninja club.  But Daryl, a decidedly un-ninja like boy wants in…desperately.  He’s never had a passion for any club before but this one is totally him.  The one boy says that since winter break is about to start, when the get back to school, they can talk about him joining.  So Daryl spends all inter break practicing.  Will it be enough?  The answer is very funny.

DAV PILKEY-“Book ‘Em, Dog Man!”  This story begins with a letter to the parents of George (the main character in Captain Underpants) from his teacher saying that she asked for a written assignment and once again he drew a cartoon.  She has attached the offending (and offensive) cartoon for them to see.  Petey the cat is in jail .  He wants to beat the superhero Dog Man.  But Dog Man is too smart  So Petey realizes that if he removes all the words from books no one will be smart anymore.  He invents a ray which does just that.  What will the world do when they can’t read anymore?

JARRETT J, KROSOCZKA-“Betty and the Perilous Pizza Day”  “Lunch Lady” is a cartoon I didn’t really know before reading this collection. Lunch Lady appears in the margins of the pages of the book, but not in this actual cartoon.  Rather, the star of this cartoon is Betty, Lunch Lady’s helper. And since Lunch Lady can’t be there, Betty will have to deal with lunch.  But it is pizza day!  The only hope is the Pizzatron 2000.  Unless, of course, it develops a mind of its own and goes on a rampage.

URSULA VERNON-“The Magic Acorn”  I don’t know Dragonbreath all that well, although Clark has read all of them.  This story is pretty simple.  Although since I don’t know the characters I don’t know if it is representative of anything prior.  Scratch, a squirrel who is rather realistically drawn (Vernon’s drawings are great) is interrupted by Squeak, a far more a cartoony squirrel.  Squeak is excited because he found a magic acorn.  Scratch states that this is the 318th “magic acorn” that he’s found.  And besides they have recess in ten minutes.  Well, this acorn may not exactly be an acorn, but it is certainly magical.

JENNIFER L. HOLM & MATTHEW HOLM-“Babymouse: The Quest for Recess”  In this brief story Babymouse has a few fantasies that prevent her from actually getting outside for recess.  First she is late for school (dreaming about Camelot) then her locker brings her to Zeus, making her late for class.  A western dream makes her disrupt lunch and then the barbarian fractions invade during math class.  Can she keep it together and actually get outside?

ERIC WIGHT-“Jiminy Sprinkles in ‘Freeze Tag'”  So I don’t know this comic at all either. Jiminy Sprinkles is a new student to the school (he is a cupcake). He immediately befriends a peanut who tells him to watch out for The Mean Green Gang, a group of vegetables.  (Their leader is Russell from Brussels (ha)).  The Mean Green Gang is pretty tough but Jiminy has a secret weapon of his own–a very funny one that the Mean Green Gang actually gets a kick out of too.

DAN SANTAT-“300 Words” This is an interesting look at the story The Giving Tree.  The kids were assigned a book report on the story three weeks ago and it is due today.  John is one of the boys who didn’t do the assignment and he’s about to write his 300 words now.  It’s a tree. It gives things.  But another boy has a better idea–he’s going to ask Sophia for her paper.  Even though the last time he talked to her he threw up on her.   Sophia has an interesting answer for him.

DAVE ROMAN & RAINA TELGEMEIER-“The Rainy Day Monitor” is a wonderful take on kickball.  Since the kids can’t go outside to play because of the rain, their recess is indoors.  And they are closely watched by Boring Becca the totally boring fifth grader.  When they ask if they can play kickball inside she asks the kids if they have ever played Dungeons and Dragons.  They groan until she says they should play kickball using dice and imaginary characters.  Pretty great idea Becca!

The end of the book is set up with fun fake ads and useful tips.

One “ad” is an offer for Babymouse Binoculars.  I also really liked Lunch Lady’s tips on how to draw Betty (which skip from 3 to 12 while Squish sweats).

This was not only a great introduction to all of these fabulous comic writers, it was a really funny collection in its own right.

The end of the book says “Do you think there will be another one? As sure as there is syrup on pancakes there’ll be a Comics Squad #2.”  And indeed, there was a second one.

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20SOUNDTRACK: ARTURO O’FARRILL-Tiny Desk Concert #303 (September 14, 2013).

arturo Arturo O’Farrill is not, as I expected, an Irish traditional musician.  He is, in fact, a Latin jazz pianist.  And the blurb states:

Latin jazz works best when the musicians involved are as fluent in Afro-Cuban rhythms as they are in the deep grooves and advanced harmonics of bebop. Arturo O’Farrill has that pedigree in his DNA: His father, Chico O’Farrill, was part of a groundbreaking group of musicians who created the mash-up of Afro-Cuban music and jazz back in late-’40s New York.

The octet you see in this video is a stripped-down version of the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, which is at least twice as large — don’t think I didn’t try to get the whole band behind Bob Boilen’s desk — and dedicated to both preserving the legacy of the elder O’Farrill and documenting the younger musician’s efforts to move the music forward.

The octet includes trombone, trumpet, sax, bongo, conga, drums, bass and of course, piano.  And they play three pieces (for quite a long set).

“In Whom…” has a good swinging feel with O’Farrill’s piano running wild.  At one point they cut to the conga player and the lady behind him is checking her phone (rudeness even in 2013!).  But it’s not all about the piano, there s sax solo and then a fairly lengthy bass solo.  Indeed there are many bass solo moments in this concert–Arturo certainly shares the spotlight.

The second song is “Compay Doug.”  He explains that “compay” means some who is not family but who is as close as family or maybe even closer.  The main melody has a cool fast/slow riff and then there’s another long bass solo.  There’s some great conga work in the middle of the song ( you can hear the percussionist use a rain stick, too).  Late in the song there a trumpet solo.  So even though this is ostensibly a pianist’s performance, there is much more–but don’t be fooled, his piano playing is intense!

The final song is called “Mass Incarceration Blues.” He says many years ago it was called “Blue State Blues,” then it became “Stop and Frisk Blues” and now it’s called “Mass Incarceration Blues.”  NPR’s Felix Contreras joins them (he ha so many cameos!).  There’s a super fast series of opening piano runs.  Then there’s a surprisingly fun (given the name) staccato melody and lots percussion.  And, as if to get everybody a moment to shine, this song includes a trombone solo, a sax solo and Felix even gets a conga solo.

[READ: July 5, 2016] Goes for the Gold

This book came out in time for the 2016 Summer Olympics, and Babymouse joins the swim team!

The book begins with her doing a fantastic dive (called the Reverse Messy Whisker Dive) only to wake up in her backyard kiddie pool.

Despite her fantasy of doing dramatic dives, she actually spends all of her time after school reading and eating cupcakes.  Her parents insist that she do something–join a team or whatever.  She chooses to join the school swim team, “The shrimps.”  She figures how hard can it be, “I mean, swimming’s not even a real sport.”

Well not when you wear the suit that Babymouse has on.  She is encouraged to wear a proper swimming suit and goggles and a cap (to much amusement of everyone).

But swimming proves to be hard–between trying to go straight, the way the chlorine dries out your fur and the whale living in her locker (Moby-Dick, anyone?), it’s more than just splashing in a pool.

Especially when we see the other team–actual sharks!  And is that a giant squid at  the bottom of the pool?

But The Shrimps are very good and when Felicia Furrypaws dismisses swimming as not even a real sport, Babymouse has second thoughts–or at least would rather stay up late eating cupcakes.  Will she feel guilty about letting her team down?  Of course, she will.

But what will she do about it?

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19SOUNDTRACK: MARTIN HAYES & DENNIS CAHILL-Tiny Desk Concert #269 (March 11, 2013).

hayescahillEven though I have enjoyed much Irish music over the years, I was unfamiliar with Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill.

The blurb says:

You’re about to watch one of the best fiddlers on the planet and a subtle guitar master work their magic. For too many of us, Irish music is something that merely gets trotted out around … St. Patrick’s Day and the coming of spring — and made a cliche by commercialism.

But for a moment, stop, put aside your notion of jigs and reels, and just listen. Martin Hayes plays his fiddle with an exquisite touch and tone, as well as a magnificent sense of melody and rhythm that never ceases to astonish.

Hayes has worked with many accompanying musicians, and some are equal partners, but with Dennis Cahill you get delicate support. It’s a rhythm that keeps the tune in; that accents and colors it but never overtakes it. It’s brilliant restraint that serves the music and perfectly suits his partner. So with fresh ears, come join us in a rare treat with a familiar sound.

And indeed, this is just beautiful fiddle playing and understated guitar work.  It’s a fantastic pair.

They play three pieces (some of which are actually made up of smaller independent pieces).

“The Mountain Lark/Tom Doherty’s Reel” I’m not sure when the first part ends, but I love as they get near the end of the piece—the fast bowing is just great.   Hayes gets some really amazing sounds.

As with many great Irish players, modesty is the key.  He talks about how he learned while watching his father and how he enjoys other players.  He talks about how traditional Irish music is not slavishly about the past, but it incorporates new elements into an old tradition.  As you can tell by the name of the second half of this next pair: “P. Joe’s Reel/The Barack Obama Reel.”

He also says that it’s good to see you get music breaks.  Music breaks should be part of all work—lunch break and music break.  The final piece is in fact a traditional piece called “O’Carolan’s Farewell To Music.”  It was originally written for harp by Turlough O’Carolan and is rumored to be the final piece that O’Carolan played before he died.  The transposition to fiddle and guitar is perfect.

[READ: February 8, 2016] Bad Babysitter

Babymouse continues to delight with the funny stories and amusing spoofs.

This story opens with Babymouse dreaming about “The Old Woman Who Live in a Shoe” (which is instantly transformed into a bunny slipper).  She wakes from her daydream about comics to see an ad for a Super Scooter, only $79.  There’s no way Babymouse’s mom will pay for this, so Babymouse better save up!

The next day at school one of her friends say that there’s a babysitting job available if Babymouse would like it.  Babymouse imagines herself as Mary Poppins until the dream kitten (who looks suspiciously like Felicia Furrypaws) complains about her whiskers.

Babymouse is set to babysit for Mrs Ladybug whose child (she swears) is a sweteahrt and only cries when he is hungry.  And, he should sleep the night. Ha!  He is up all night and, just like with her goldfish, Babymouse overfeeds the baby until it throws up all over her.  This job ends with her watching a zombie movie (called Babysitting Movie) and causing serious damage to the hosts’ house. (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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