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Pete Seeger: Beacon of Light

Living in New York for almost the entirety of my life — first Long Island, then Brooklyn, then upstate (Albany, then Delmar, near the Hudson River) — I’ve seen Pete Seeger on many occasions.  I’ve even stepped on his boat, the famous Clearwater. Stood and applauded the man. Taken some money out of my pocket to contribute to his latest good cause.

It’s funny, I thought he was an old guy the first time I saw him, at a folk festival 30 years ago. And after that, all he did was persist. He kept keeping on, believing in good things, fighting the fight. Pete Seeger had great integrity of purpose. And soulfulness.

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes when you meet a person, you feel it: “Wow, this is a great man.” An awareness that you are in the presence of a truly evolved individual. He (or she) is elevated somehow. I can name a few dozen folks over the years, men and women, celebrities and neighbors, authors and near-strangers. You recognize something deep and good in that person. A spirit, a kindness, a wisdom. For me, Pete Seeger had that. And each time I’ve experienced the contradictory sensation of feeling both small and strangely ennobled. Small, because I was not there yet, probably never would get there. Too petty, too selfish, too unkind, too Jimmy. And yet lifted up somehow just by the proximity, because here I could see it, sense the possibility: What it means to be a really good person in this world.

We need those beacons, shining that good pure light.

And that’s all I’ve got to say.

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BEFORE YOU GO: The Imaginary Soundtrack to My Young Adult Novel, Part 1

No blogging for at least a week until I beat a deadline into submission, literally. So ’til then . . .

I’ve concocted an imaginary soundtrack that plays during the imaginary movie that’s based on my (real!) upcoming Young Adult novel, Before You Go (July 17, 2012) I didn’t sweat the details, such as, oh, there’s no movie and even if there was, we couldn’t afford many of these bands. Not going to worry about that. These are the songs I hear in my head as I move through the book, the songs that helped me as a writer.

Setup: For those who don’t know, the story opens with four unnamed teenagers driving on a dark road. The car spins out of control, hits a tree. One passenger dies. Next page, we rewind six weeks into the past, and gradually meet all the characters. The reader does not know who is going to be in the car, or who will die. The book catches up to the accident about 2/3 of the way through. So the book is in two sections: “Before” and “After.”

For purposes of length, and to avoid disclosing any key spoilers, I’ve limited today’s post to Part One, “Before.”

And away we go, chapter to chapter . . .


Tom Petty, “Here Comes My Girl”

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Probably not the hippest selection in the world, and surely classic rock isn’t the right note to start off with, but I always heard this Tom Petty tune blasting from the radio as the car races through the fogged, misty night. Anyway. Key lyric: “You know, sometimes, I don’t know why, but this old town just seems so hopeless.”



The Cure, “Pictures of You”

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This is Jude’s recent obsession as a guitar player, this exact tune, and the music plays when he shoves in the ear buds while riding the bus to his first-ever summer job. I see him staring out the bus window, crossing the bridges, the summer morning, the traffic and the water and the gulls.


The Head and the Heart, “Lost In My Mind”

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This doesn’t precisely connect to the material, but somehow reflects interior Jude, going through the motions at his new job, punching the clock, meeting the new boss, putting on the paper hat. It’s a mood thing. Key lyric: “‘Cause there are stars/Up above/We can start/Moving forward.” And also, “Put your dreams away for now/I won’t see you for some time/I am lost in my mind/I get lost in my mind.”


Toro Y Moi, “Still Sound”

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Full on beach mode, Jude working hard now, the sun-burnt throng, great-looking girls in bikinis — and he sees Becka for the first time.


Arcade Fire, “Suburban War”

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I see Jude returning home from work, walking the suburban streets, seeing his father out front, opening the door, going inside. Key lyric: “This town’s so strange/They built it to change/And while we’re sleeping all the streets, they rearrange.” There’s also a foreshadowing in a later line: “In the suburbs, I learned to drive/People told me we would never survive.


Big Star, “I’m In Love with a Girl”

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One of the all-time favorite songs, all that teenage vulnerability and yearning. We’ve got to find a place for it somewhere in the imaginary movie soundtrack, so we’ll squeeze it in here.

Ben Folds, “Not the Same”

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Jude and his best friend Corey climb the roof of his house, overlooking their suburban world. About the homemade fan video, above, made by two brothers, I love the vibe they created. Good, clean fun. Nice job, guys.


Charlotte Gainsbourg, “Me and Jane Doe”

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Cool tune, seems to be a conversation of sorts, and I wanted a female voice entering the soundtrack. I hear this with Jude and Becka outside on the bench in the open air, feeling each other out. Leads to this miraculous version of “Hey Jude” by Wilson Pickett and Duane Allman. All the lyrics to this song work for this character, “And anytime you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain/Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders.” Or this: “And don’t you know that it’s just you, hey Jude, you’ll do/The movement you need is on your shoulder.

Wilson Pickett, “Hey, Jude”

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Teenage Fanclub, “Sometimes I Don’t Need to Believe in Anything”

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Fits with the feeling of time on the boardwalk, putt-putt golf, and talk about guitars. Sunny and happy, Becka and Jude. And I worship Teenage Fanclub.


Stornoway, “Fuel Up”

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The car imagery again, the youthful reflection, the open road — but not in the way that Springsteen writes about it, or even Kerouac, but here with a mixture of innocence lost and trepidation. Key lyric: “And your head’s on the window, your eyes are just closed/There’s a voice in the front and a hush on the road/You’re a passenger but your mind is travelling on.” Again with Jude, there’s this insular sense, lost in his mind almost regardless of circumstances. So many times he’s not fully there.


Yuck, “Get Away”

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Just the right sound as the pace picks up, four boys in the car kicking back. But at the same time, a part of Jude will always, always, remain separate. He’s texting with Becka, thinking of her. Key lyric: “Summer sun says get out more/I need you, I want you/But I can’t get this feeling off my mind/I want you, I need you.//Oh, I can’t get away, Oh, I can’t get away . . .


Laura Marling, “Rambling Man”

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I kind of associate Becka with Laura Marling. I can imagine Becka owning some Marling on vinyl, spinning it in a candle-lit bedroom. Marling appears on this soundtrack in my head — lawyers be damned. This little scene between Jude & Becka at the beach has, like so many scenes with Jude, that underpinning of sadness to it. Key lyric: “Oh, naive little me/Asking what things you have seen/You’re vulnerable in your head/You’ll scream and you’ll wait till you’re dead.”


Rosewood Thieves, “Los Angeles”

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This song just brings the hip, cool vibe I needed to hear. But it also reflects absence and longing, Jude’s little sister, Lily, gone forever. Key lyric: “It’s been so long since I’ve seen her around here/I can’t remember if she’s real/Summer days spent walking around/And up all night yeah/Trying to remember if she’s real.”


M83, “Midnight City”

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Let’s party like it’s 2012. Good times, hanging out, knocking down the pins, drinking smuggled-in rum & coke. If this song plays when I’m bowling, hey, maybe I finally crack 150 if it’s cranked up LOUD enough.

15 & 16

Beirut, “The Rip Tide”

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Sun Kil Moon, “Floating”

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Joni Mitchell, “All I Want”

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There’s the beach, the sadness of their conversation, and then together entering the water, floating, faces turned to the sun, and liquid desire. These songs are those feelings.


Wilco, “You and I”

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Jude and Becka swapping songs on guitar, hanging out on a blanket, falling in love, together. If you don’t know this song, or the greatness of Feist, listen up!


Foo Fighters, “Home”

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A stunning and sensitive performance by Dave Grohl. At the end of this chapter, Becka wipes a tear from Jude’s face and tells him, “When you cry, I taste salt.”


The War on Drugs, “Brothers”

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Good times, Corey and Jude, gaming in the basement. Great friends, waiting for their ride, ready to hit that party at Gilgo Beach. As they are about to leave, four teenagers in a car, Jude’s father calls out, “Hey, before you go . . .”


Lana Del Rey, “It’s the End of the World

The original version of this song, by the great Skeeter Davis, ran through my head all through the writing of this book. I don’t think Lana Del Ray nails this version, by any means, but I like the idea of a hip update, sans strings, so submit that notion here. This is the chapter of the accident: “Don’t they know, it’s the end of the world? It ended when you said goodbye.”

Anyway, here’s the Skeeter Davis version — now imagine a more contemporary, stripped down take, without the syrupy excesses of the classic arrangement. Not criticizing Skeeter, btw, the original song is perfect. Just that for my movie, and for this song to reach a new audience, it needs a different take. IMO.

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Thought for the Day

I put this up on the Fathers Read blog, but had to double-dip. Thanks to Deb Hanson (Real Men Read with Kids) for the heads up.

And if you are not checking out Fathers Read, then you’re dead to me. Seriously: you’re missing out on my labor of love.

Cyberbullying Link Dump

I’ve been reading a lot about cyberbullying in preparation for Tuesday night’s panel discussion. Here’s a quick link dump of a sampling of the better articles.

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* White House Ready to Rumble With Cyberbullies: President Obama takes a strong stance against cyberbullying at a White House Bullying Prevention summit.

It’s something that we care about not only as president and first lady, but also as parents,” Michelle Obama said. “It’s tough enough being a kid today, and our children deserve the chance to learn and grow without constantly being picked on, made fun of, or worse.”

But according to a new survey released Wednesday, the issue simply isn’t getting enough attention.

The report, released by the National Cyber Security Alliance in collaboration with Microsoft, claims that just 26 percent of K-12 teachers surveyed have taught kids how to handle cyberbullying, versus 15 percent who have spoken to students about hate speech online.

* Cyberbullying and Suicide: A summary from the Cyberbullying Research Center. As summarized by Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D. and Justin W. Patchin, Ph.D.:

One factor that has been linked to suicidal ideation is experience with bullying. That is, youth who are bullied, or who bully others, are at an elevated risk for suicidal thoughts, attempts, and completed suicides. The reality of these links has been strengthened through research showing how experience with peer harassment (most often as a target but also as a perpetrator) contributes to depression, decreased self-worth, hopelessness, and loneliness — all of which are precursors to suicidal thoughts and behavior.

* Five Things Parents Should Know About Cyberbullying: Harrison Pennybaker reports:

It is unclear exactly how prevalent cyberbullying is. However, some statistics suggest that anywhere from 10 to 40 percent of youth in the United States encounter the phenomenon, although this figure varies depending on age. Since cyberbullying can be done by computers, cell phones and other devices, and since these devices are widely owned, the means to cyberbully are easily accessible.

* Cyberbullying an Epidemic, writes Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson.

The Australian study of more than 1000 parents found that 87 per cent of children aged between four and 16 own or have access to a mobile phone and 66 per cent take their mobile phones to school at least some of the time.

Van Vugt said this access to technology needed to be better managed.

“All children have the capacity to behave badly, especially if they don’t understand the impact of their behaviour,” she added.

* Tips to Fight Against Cyberbullies by Kenneth Butler, who consulted with Nancy Willard (Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use), Parry Aftab, author of A Parent’s Guide to the Internet, and Anne Collier, executive director, NetFamilyNews.org.

For social networking and online etiquette, the popular saying “What goes around comes around” is as valuable as knowing when to use a frowning smiley or a winking one. When chatting, posting messages, or sending e-mails, it’s always a good idea for young web users to be “mindful of their digital footprint,” said Nancy Willard, director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use. In other words: “Don’t engage in unkind or hurtful actions online because the person you really hurt will be yourself.” That includes being the instigator of online spats as well as retaliating in them. Too much combative behavior could lead to a bad reputation online, and it could damage relationships with peers both in front of and away from the computer screen.

* Jostens Launches a “Pause Before You Post” program.

Before I make a post, I pledge to ask myself:
* Who will be able to see what I post?
* Will anyone be embarrassed or hurt by it?
* Am I proud of what I’m posting?
* How I would feel if someone posted it about me?

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* What are the warning signs? What can parents do? What can educators do? Here’s a great resource: StopBullying.Gov.

There are many warning signs that could indicate that someone is involved in bullying, either by bullying others or by being bullied.  However, these warning signs may indicate other issues or problems, as well.  If you are a parent or educator, learn more about talking to someone about bullying.

* A Yorktown mother, Taryn Grimes-Herbert, provides a list of bully-proofing ideas that “really worked” for her family.

Over the past few years, I’ve spoken to many educators, parents and kids who’ve had to learn this very difficult lesson: We cannot change the behavior of others. We can only choose how to respond to it, and how we respond to it reveals our character.

* Mahwah Police Chief James Batelli promotes new software which allows parents to monitor their children’s online activity.

“Call it whatever you want,” Batelli said in an interview in his office at police headquarters on Franklin Turnpike on Tuesday, March 1. “If it’s going to save my daughter or someone else’s daughter, then call it whatever you want.”

* More parents are getting involved in their kids’ online activity — by helping them lie about their age. (“Where Age Is What You Say It Is,” from The New York Times, by Matt Richtel and Miguel Helft.)

Jim Wilson/The New York Times

* States look to pass bills that make cyberbullying a crime.

State senator Linda Chesterfield (D-Little Rock) is now pushing SB214.

“It was the news of so many children committing suicide who had been bullied via the internet so as a former educator it resonated with me that we’ve got to do something,” Chesterfield says.

The one page legislation would establish the crime of “cyber bullying” in Arkansas.

“This is an acknowledgement that in this day and time with technology the way it is, that people are able to use other means and sometimes hide their hands when they throw the rocks,” Chesterfield says.

The bill says someone commits cyber-bullying if they electronically communicate with someone with the purpose of harrassing or intimidating, whether by cell phone or on-line.

* Another great resource: The Cyberbullying Research Center.

From the home page:

If you only have time to read one of our documents to get up-to-speed about the problem and what you can do, read this one!

Cyberbullying: Identification, Prevention, and Response.

* Olweus Bullying Prevention program adds new focus on character.

Now two Pennsylvania districts — Mt. Lebanon and Penn Hills — are piloting an enhancement to the program that includes a character education component aimed at turning students into good citizens and empathetic colleagues who will be less likely to engage in bullying behavior.

* Lastly, more and more schools are featuring this well-reviewed book for a “One Book, One School” program.

Overheard: “I can taste things without eating them. That’s my power!”

Okay, a few things:

* My daughter is an enthusiastic girl, prone to exclamations and grand pronouncements. Especially when it comes to food. Maggie loves to eat, and does so with the zeal of a rhinoceros. Last night I told her that Mom had a meeting after work, and then we had to run out for Open House Night at school, so I was ordering pizza for the boys.

“What am I going to eat?” she asked.

I said I’d order a chicken parm sub for her.

She replied:

“Really?! Today, this morning, I had the taste of chicken parm in mouth. I can taste things without eating them. That’s my power!”

* We are two days away from Talk Like a Pirate Day. With my new picture book out, A Pirate’s Guide to First Grade, it’s assumed that I’m one of those wildly extroverted guys who loves to talk like a pirate. So I’ve done a couple of radio shows, giving it my all, billowing and sputtering. These things are best filed under, “Live & Learn.”

Regrettably, due to an excess of rum and ill-advised gusto, I cut off my right hand and inserted a hook.

I hoped it would lend me street credibility, a quality that’s equally important to rappers and children’s book authors alike. But now I can only wear slip-on shoes. Arrrr.

A while back I nominated Kiss the Book for best logo image — and my support has not wavered. It’s actually a very good site, and you can find it on my handy, dandy sidebar. The good folks over there recently reviewed A Pirate’s Guide.

Here’s the booty quote:

“If you want your students to spend the next few hours speaking and acting like pirates – this is exactly the right book for you. What a fun way to start the school year – ending with a trip to the library to find the buried treasure!”Kiss the Book.

* Lastly, two reminders: If you are within range of Tarrytown, NY, this Sunday, September 19 (which is, coincidentally “Talk Like a Pirate Day”), you’ll find me and dozens of way better authors & illustrators at “Sunnyside.” Click here for more details.

But if you are close to Ashton, MA, you can hang out with me heartie, illustrator Greg Ruth — hoist the mainsail, swill some grog, the whole magilla. I heard they are going all out for what should be a great, grand, jolly time, transforming a bookstore, Elmer’s, into a Pirate Ship! I hope Greg takes pictures. Look at the cool poster he created: