Archive for March, 2011

Listen now to Shakespeare .

Our favorite children’s librarian suggested a show featuring kid’s books that combine great stories with a clever and accessible introduction to Shakespeare. Our first reaction was “What a great idea!” and our second was “Get thee to the library and commence reading my good ladies!”  So then, a podcast devoted to children’s books that weave together plain “olde”good stories with learnings from that well known writer from the bard. And a podcaster’s note: these would be be great books to pack in your carry-on for a family trip to London and the Globe Theater!

Our recommendations include:

Shakespeare Bats Clean-Up by Koertge – This is one of J Lisa C’s all time favorite books for young adults (and for those adults who appreciate “kid’s lit” too).  Written in verse, it flows from one poetic technique to another,  unfolding the story of Kevin Boland, a top teenage baseball player home sick with mono trying not to feel too sorry for himself. Bored one day,  he reads one of  his writer father’s book of poetry and begins to imitate the various types of verse in his new journal. And as he does so you learn what he loves, what he hates, and what he fears as he lives life as a teen.

Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt – We both LOVED this book. Written by Newberry award winning author Gary Schmidt, it humorously tells the story of Holling Hoodhood (yes, that’s really his name) who lives in “the perfect house” and is the only Protestant in his class. This  means that he stays after school on Wednesdays while all of his  classmates attend religious instruction at either the local Temple or the Catholic church. Holling is convinced his teacher hates him because she has to stay late – especially when she makes him read Shakespeare to fill the time. What ensues is a hilarious, heartbreaking and heartwarming story of a boy coming of age in Vietnam-era America, witnessing the wars his country is fighting, that his family is fighting, that his heart is fighting with his first love, and that perhaps he really ISN’T  fighting with his teacher. Oh – and maybe he learns to like Shakespeare after all.

All the World’s A Stage: A Novel in Five Acts by Gretchen Woelfle – This is the only book in our discussion where Shakespeare is an actual character.  This new novel follows the life of a young “cut purse” (pick pocket) turned stage hand, turned player who finally comes into his own as a carpenter.  Unlike many books for kids about Shakespeare’s company and the Lord Chamberlain’s Men that focus mainly on the plays or on Shakespeare, this book focuses on the actual building of the Globe Theater (and on  the men who made it). As such, it offers an interesting view of the importance of place in plays and the importance of the Globe to London and Shakespeare.

Other books about Shakespeare, not discussed on this show, but recommended to explore include:

Shakespeare’s Secret by Elise Broach – when Hero and her sister Beatrice (yes both named for Shakespeare characters) move to Washington, DC with their parents (scholars at a Shakespearean Library) the house next door and a boy down the street offer her a mystery to solve (involving Shakepeare’s true identity) and friendships unlike any she has held before.

King of Shadows by Susan Cooper – Time travel, plays, becoming an actor, and learning from the past all play a part in this novel about a 20th century boy who finds himself trapped as a Lord Chamberlain’s player in Shakepearean England.


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Music Podcast (click to listen) or download  http://www.box.net/files#/files/0/f/0/1/f_662849887  (Unfortunately, this second version will not have the music/opera touches we added to the first version.)

In search of signs of spring and sunshine, the Lisas recorded this music themed book show with hopes that the notes and melodies would make them feel warmer — at least on the inside.  This quest for writing with a musical theme landed them in the midst of three very different titles: The Bells (2010) by Richard Harvell, Just Kids (2010) by Patti Smith and Bel Canto (2001) by Ann Patchett. Read on for a quick summary of their discussion or just click above to listen to the podcast.

Harvell’s “The Bells” is an atmospheric, historical read set in Switzerland and then Vienna and  tells the story of a castrato’s (a castrated male opera singer) life, of a son’s discovery of his father’s story, and the results of secrets and lies.  J Lisa C observed that this book almost reads like an opera itself and is speculating (with its blend of tragedy, comedy and drama) if it is actually based on an opera score.

Rocker and musician Patti Smith made a promise to Robert Mapplethorpe before his death from AIDS in 1989 that she would write a book to tell people the story of their very special relationship. Just Kids is the fulfillment of that promise. The two met by chance in New York City in 1967 and the rest is history. Though they both remained under the radar for the next several years, their individual art continued to grow with the support of each other and the influence of the Chelsea Hotel and Beatnik scene in NYC. The scene set by Smith immerses the reader in a bygone era of New York’s Chelsea Hotel and beatnik culture.

And finally, Ann Patchett’s classic “Bel Canto” rounds out this trio of musical works. Set in an unknown South American country, this beautiful piece of fiction (which won the Orange Prize the year it was published) tells about the complex relationships that develop in a vice presidential mansion when the guests are all taken hostage for a prolonged imprisonment. The music part? One of the hostages is a famous opera singer who was performing for guests when they were taken hostage and then takes to practicing every morning while held at the mansion. Music changes everything.

Enjoy the music, the reading and the podcast (check out the opera at the end!).

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