Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Barry Louis Polisar Tribute Album

I'm leaving for MIP Jr. in a little over a day so I'm definitely feeling the crunch sending emails, writing one-sheets, and all that fun stuff, but I've been remiss in not passing along a press release from none other than children's singer/author Barry Louis Polisar, who's been doing his wonderful thing since about when I was born but who has come to renewed prominence since having his music featured in Juno a couple years ago. 

His work deserves serious attention and analysis, but I'm afraid at the moment all I can do is pass along the notice unedited. I hope that suffices for now because the important news is that this new album is coming out. For those who are truly intrigued please visit www.barrylou.com; on that site you can listen to his music as well. 

So here goes:

"We're Not Kidding: A Tribute to Barry Louis Polisar" to Release this Fall

Children's musician and author Barry Louis Polisar achieved "overnight" success and fame in 2008 when his 30 year old song "All I Want is You" was featured in the opening credits of the film JUNO. Now indie musicians from around the world are coming together on a two-CD album, "We're Not Kidding: A Tribute to Barry Louis Polisar," to be released this fall.

Polisar has performed concerts -- songs for children and smart adults -- at schools and libraries since 1975. Aaron Cohen, lead singer of The Radioactive Chicken Heads, an indie punk rock band from Los Angeles, grew up on Polisar’s music. The group has recorded their own versions of Barry's songs for years. Cohen is putting together recordings of 45 different singers and musicians from around the world doing covers of 60 Polisar songs.

Though originally created as children's songs, Polisar’s music will be played in genres as diverse as hip-hop, folk, jazz and rock. Three totally different versions of "All I Want is You" from JUNO are featured, including one performed in French from a singer from Brittany. There is even a Klezmer version of Barry's song "Don't Put Your Finger Up Your Nose" sung entirely in Yiddish.

A number of the tribute album songs are already posted on Polisar’s web site: http://www.barrylou.com/tributeAlbum.html

"The best part for me," Polisar says, "is that most of these artists had my albums as kids and many claim me as an early influence. I can't begin to tell you what that means to me... and how deeply that touches my soul."

Polisar’s performance of his song during the animated opening of JUNO has reunited him with fans who had his vinyl recordings as kids. The soundtrack to JUNO has sold over a million copies, won a Grammy award, and earned Barry a lifetime achievement award from the Children's Music Web.

For additional information, contact Aaron Cohen or Barry Louis Polisar at . . . Barrylou@Barrylou.com

Monday, September 28, 2009

Milton Meltzer

Milton Meltzer was one of the most important and prolific nonfiction children's authors of the past half century; he died last Saturday, the 19th, at home here in Manhattan; he was a Worcester native, though, and evidently lived and wrote in Massachussets a while as an adult. 

Here are the obituaries from the New York Times, the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and the School Library Journal. Also, here's a fascinating interview I found about his time as a young writer with the WPA during the Depression (from the website History Matters). This isn't exactly about his later children's writing, but it does show where he came from as a progressive and how and why he chose to write about organized labor, civil rights, and similar topics for children and youth. 

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sergei Mikhalkov

On August 27 Russian poet, children's author, and patriot Sergei Mikhalkov died. He's a figure I admittedly hadn't encountered before, but in surveying his work now it appears he is primarily known for two seemingly divergent strains of work: writing multiple versions of the Soviet national anthem and many books and poems for the children of Russia. His Uncle Styopa character, a policeman designed to instill respect for rule of law, was particularly beloved. Such a terse description makes it sound like another bland foray into socialist realism, but the character and Mikhalkov's verses were apparently quite charming and beloved. If anyone knows about English translations I'd love to hear about it.

Here's the notice I received in my SCBWI online newsletter:

"Sergei Mikhalkov, an author favored by Stalin who wrote the lyrics for the Soviet and Russian national anthems, has died at age 96. In 2005, he received a state award for "literary and social achievements, " personally handed to him by Vladimir Putin.

"Mikhalkov also received numerous state awards for his children's books, film scripts, plays and fiction. He churned out adaptations of Russian and European classics—including Mark Twain's "The Prince and the Pauper"—transforming them according to Politburo-prescribe d ideological recipes.

"Millions of Russians can recite lines from his other famous work—the 1935 children's poem "Uncle Styopa," about an unusually tall police officer—which is still taught in Russian kindergartens and primary schools.

"Mikhalkov's survivors include: his physicist wife Yulia Subbotina, his son Nikita who won an Academy Award for the 1994 film "Burnt by the Sun," his other son Andrei Konchalovsky who has made a career as a Hollywood director and whose films include the Oscar-nominated "Runaway Train," ten grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren."

Here's an obituary from the Daily Telegraph.

Another from the Guardian.

And of course the Moscow News.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

New Breakfast Block on Nick Jr. UK

On October 5th at 7 a.m. Greenwich Time Nick Jr. UK will be launching a new block of programming called Wake Up World. This KidScreen article by Emily Claire Afan has all the details, particularly about the two-minute interstitials that will be included with the longer programming. The past two weeks I've been trying to tweak out the appropriate running time for an interstitial with a production company in Wisconsin, so I'd love to be able to see these super-short ones here in the States. Alas, it's not meant to be...but I hope readers/viewers in the United Kingdom enjoy this new block of programmes! 

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Chinese Picture Book Awards

Well, first things first. Part of the cause of my most recent hiatus is that Carol had our second child last Friday, September 11. Her name is Isabel Vivian Astle and she weighed 6 lbs. 4.4 oz., 19 in. That was on top of an end-of-summer family trip to Coney Island and the circus on Monday and Loretta starting Kindergarten on Wednesday, so all in all it's been a busy week. Tomorrow I get to join the PTA!

So in the interest of passing along some interesting information without having to write anything myself, here are two interesting articles I got a while back from the SCBWI about a new set of awards for children's books in China. Presented in conjunction with the Hong Kong Book Fair last month, the Fengzikai Children's Book Awards (named for a great Chinese illustrator) will hopefully help improve the quality of children's book authorship and illustration in the People's Republic and bring recognition, including in the West, for those who create them. Here is the official press release with all the winners and here's an article from the English-language Taiwan News.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Reading Rainbow Ends Friday

For years I watched these opening credits at least weekly, probably a lot more often. At the time, when I was young, I probably didn't think I gave Reading Rainbow as much mental clout as I gave to Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, but looking back I realize that I really did. I certainly watched it just as much, and it was really just as integral a part of my childhood--and much longer (I was still watching it at an older age than those two shows). I would have been five or six when the show went on the air, which was just the age at which I was learning to read on my own, and Reading Rainbow was just the show to guide me into the world of books, showing me the wonderful options that were available at the library. There were lots of factors in developing my love of learning, but this show was certainly one of them.

Now the show is ending its twenty-six-year run at the end of this week. As this NPR story shows, curricular needs and educational theories have left the show behind: the vogue is now all about teaching phonics and how to read, rather than the why or the what of reading. I'll not quibble with the experts, but it does seem to me that instilling a love of books for the preliterate would motivate them to acquire the necessary skills. There has to be a source that teaches those skills, but all phonic shows all the time won't give kids that love. Of course they can get it from books themselves--that's ideal--but the whole concept of educational television as it grew out of President Johnson's Great Society was that TV was ubiquitous and could help those kids whose environments don't naturally include books and libraries (i.e. poor kids). I'm a tremendous fan of WordGirl, WordWorld, Martha Speaks, Between the Lions, The Electric Company, etc., but there should still be a space within children's television for a show with Reading Rainbow's aims: to show kids why reading is so amazing. (And that's not even mentioning all the hundreds of little segments showing kids industrial processes--how grown-ups do things: Reading Rainbow and Mr. Rogers still remain the best shows at doing this sort of thing, and I'm grateful for their modern equivalents like This is Emily Yeung, although I do think something's been lost in the modern shows. To this day I can still remember Burton explaining that when you hitch oxen to a plow or wagon, you unhitch them in the same order so that no animal spends longer under the yoke than another. I'm not sure where that kind of information is on television today.)

But all good things come to an end. LeVar Burton has had a good film and television career which often overshadows this show, but Reading Rainbow is without doubt his unsung legacy and greatest achievement. He ranks up there with Fred Rogers and the longtime Sesame Street cast members as a presenter and host, a caring adult willing to spend his on-camera career guiding children into young adulthood. He's hipper than Mr. Rogers so his love for kids may be less evident, but I think he wouldn't have spent his career in this way without a profound love for children, his viewers. I know I felt his enthusiasm for books when I was in the target demographic. Josh Selig posted a great entry about Sesame Street actor Bob McGrath today and his love for children that helped put the heart into that show, and it is only fitting to praise Burton with the same words. He gave Reading Rainbow its heart.

With the rise of digital media and the post-literate generation, let's hope that there are still avenues to help kids pick up actual books (made of ink and paper) and just love them. As we strive to impart this love for reading--as parents or television producers or in any other role--we will do well to keep LeVar Burton in mind and urge kids to go out there and try it for themselves. But don't take my word for it. Watch a few clips yourself.

Finally, here are the opening credits in their more recent manifestation: