Tuesday, January 29, 2008

***Gustafer Yellowgold***

How do you top a masterpiece? Well, you produce another masterpiece that explores even more deeply the title character's background and personality, via dreamy and intelligent pop music. We found out about the Wide Wild World of Gustafer Yellowgold earlier last year, and now we're asked Have You Never Been Yellow? in Morgan Taylor's second installment of our hero's adventures.

From the lighter-hoisting anthem "Pinecone Lovely" to the deeply introspective "The Bluebird Tree" to the hilarious "The Mustard Slugs", Morgan lays upon us more soooperpop tunes full of thoughtful, witty, and psychedelically descriptive lyrics. Trust, death, the desire for one's unique comfort zone in the universe, family, and mathematics are dealt with on Yellow, always through the eyes and imagination of a child.

In this second CD/DVD of all things Yellowgold, we find that Gustafer loves pine cones ... as food, as clothing, as messages sent through the mail. And that birds would dearly love to trade their singing skills for mankind's secret to longevity, and their ability to trust one another. The shuffling "Beard for All Seasons" promotes the virtues of quarterly beard ownership, while Gustafer battles bugs for his scrumptious maize in "Aye, Aphid". The spacious, dusty "The Cactus Calls" disarms a sheriff with a big kiss on the mouth, and "The Mustard Slugs" is the funniest song about digit placement you will ever hear, hands down.

On Wide Wild World, we learned about Gustafer's love of jumping on cakes, and this time around we find that he's mad about "Punching Cheese", another hobby on the verge of an obsessive compulsive fetish. And when you only "Dream in Green", it changes your perception of your surroundings: The moon is a Granny Smith apple, stars are limes. By the way, this song was originally the title tune on Taylor's 2003 album for grownups, which also included the original version of Wide Wild World's "I'm From the Sun".

Taylor is fast becoming a highly admired superstar in the children's music world, not only because of his animation and musical talents, but also because he completely respects his young audiences, to the point where the tunes and words you hear on his albums are more imaginative and well-constructed than most "adult" songs. Check out this line from "Punching Cheese": "Holey Swiss, How art thou hangin'?, With gloves I'm clangin', A lovely wedge of thee". And the choruses of, well, pretty much every song on the CD are well worth the price of admission. This album will have you singing along with your little one, I promise (and to yourself on the way to work!).

And those are only the CD highlights! The DVD is a treasure on its own, full of iconographic animations of every song on the CD. Taylor experimented with layering the artwork on this project, giving the pictures a more three dimensional look. A very cool bonus feature is Taylor's audio comments, detailing his storyline and musical ideas, and describing the visuals that accompany each song.

This is a must-have, people. Buy three copies of Yellow: One for your own family, one for a friend, and one for your local public library. Soon, everyone in the world will be singing, "Piiiine Cone Looooovely, To Thee I Siiiiiiiing!!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Meet our new Ambassador, Jon Scieszka!

Jon Scieszka, he of Stinky Cheese fame, was named America’s first Ambassador for Young People’s Literature on January 3, 2008. Basically, Scieszka will be a high-profile PR person for kids’ books, and I can’t think of a better person to do the job. He’s silly, verbally quick on his feet, entertaining, and will give great interviews on mainstream morning programs and popular late night talk shows to people and for people who are largely unfamiliar with the best that Children’s Literature has to offer.

I was fortunate enough to see his, um, knighting, appointment, election … (how is an ambassador placed into power anyhow?) at the newly minted Mulberry Street Branch in SoHo. Man, this guy must have been a hoot to have as a teacher! He had the kids and the adults rolling in the aisles the whole time, but knew exactly when to give a serious answer when a student or grown up needed straight info from their Ambassador.

During his presentation, Scieszka admitted he was most excited about two things:

1. Having access to the Presidential helicopter during his two-year reign as Ambassador, and
2. Telling kids and their grownups about all the cool "weird" children's books that are out there.
Check out this link on the Library of Congress website to get the full story, and this article from the New York Times. Long live our new Ambassador!!!

Monday, January 21, 2008

***Father Goose***

Pure joy!!! Wayne Rhoden, aka Father Goose (longtime Dan Zanes sidekick), finally releases his solo kids' album, and what a doozie it is! From the album title to the CD booklet's family photos to the rambunctious songs, everything about this album yells, "Have a great time!"

What is a Bam Bam Diddly, you might ask? "It's a never ending party that starts in one place and ends up somewhere else. Bam Bam Diddly is your personal style," sez the album's inner sleeve. A perfect analogy for Rhoden's personal and musical life, which began in Jamaica and landed in Brooklyn. After gaining much fame in the grownup world as Rankin' Don, Rhoden hooked up with Zanes when that ex-rocker began making music for children. Over the years Father Goose's guest appearances with Zanes both on CD and in concert have made Rhoden a fan favorite, and those fans will not be disappointed by his full length debut, released on Zanes' Festival Five Records label.

You can hear the admiration and glee in Rhoden's voice as he gets to collaborate with childhood musical heroes like Sister Carol, and sing favorite tunes from his youth with pals Zanes and Sheryl Crow. Even Father Goose's mom shows up on his original song "Music Man"! Lots of traditional Jamaican folk songs, some Creole lyrics, a bunch of great original tunes, tons of family and friends ... listening to this CD is like dropping in on a summer picnic where the fun and great vibes never end. And I'm sure if you showed up, Father Goose and his crew would gladly invite you to join them!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Words are meant to be fun!

Words are meant to be fun. Sure, most people use them to communicate, but think about certain words in the English language: squelch, thimble, gallon. Their sounds alone can induce giggles if pondered long enough.

By that reasoning, sentences should be chock full of silliness because you can bounce words and sounds off each other and make syllables and rhymes roll off your tongue and tickle your eardrums.

Here are six picture books and a short chapter book that are a hoot to read aloud in storytime or at home, books that take advantage of the creative possibilities of language:

(Caution: practice is highly recommended to avoid tongue twisting!)

The Piggy in the Puddle, Charlotte Pomerantz, ill. James Marshall; Macmillan, 1974.
A posh family of pigs is finally convinced to join baby pig in a mud puddle. “See her dawdle, see her diddle in the muddy, muddy middle. See her waddle, plump and little, in the very merry middle.” And illustrations by the great James Marshall, to boot!

Frank was a Monster who Wanted to Dance, Keith Graves; Chronicle Books, 1999.
Awesomely gross tale of a monster that literally falls apart dancing. “Frank shook his shoulders and strutted his stuff. The audience screamed. They couldn’t get enough.”

Sheep on a Ship, Nancy Shaw, ill. Margot Apple; Houghton Mifflin Company, 1989.
A band of pirate sheep brave rough waters and finally makes it ashore. “They chop a mast to make a raft. Sheep jump off their sailing craft.” Wonderful vocabulary! In those two sentences alone, kids get to hear and see “chop”, “mast”, “raft”, “sailing” and “craft”.

Ugh! A Bug, Mary Bono; Walker & Company, 2002.
Yes, bugs are everywhere but they’re mostly pretty cool. “Would you welcome a wandering worm to your garden? What if her wriggling relatives come?” Good message about respect for living things, as well.

Fox in Socks, Dr. Seuss; Random House, 1965.
A fox challenges a friend to a series of impossibly difficult tongue twisters. “When beetles battle beetles in a puddle paddle battle and the beetle battle puddle is a puddle in a bottle…” Funniest when an adult tries in vain to read the rhymes, invariably causing listening children to collapse in hysterics.

Double Trouble in Walla Walla, Andrew Clements, ill. Salvatore Murdocca; Millbrook Press, 1997.
Chaos breaks out in (surprise!) a schoolroom, Clements' favorite setting, when a girl inadvertently opens a “word warp”. “If we’re not very, very hush-hush about this, there could be a mongo-mongo brain-drain, and everybody in Walla Walla will be talking like a herky-jerky ding-a-ling.”

Mokie & Bik, Wendy Orr, ill. Jonathan Bean; Henry Holt and Company, 2007.
In this Young Reader masterpiece, siblings live on a docked boat and wait for their fisherman father to return from sea. “They monkeyed off the roof to the slippery wet deck, slip slide slippering in soggy socks, skate chase racing up to Bullfrog’s bow – Mokie was bigger but Bik was faster – and Bik balanced on his sliptoes at the very front point.” This would make an amazing readaloud for your 2nd to 4th Grade kids!

All of these books are part of The New York Public Library’s circulating collection. Check ‘em out!