Not So Wimpy Story Telling

We read to our kids every night – it’s something that they now expect and want – which is great. They’re becoming readers. For our eight year old boy, we try to balance the book selections from historical, to autobiographical, to action/adventure, some mystery and last but not least – funny, goofy stories too. Reading is reading

Wimpy KidOne series of books that both my son and I really enjoy equally are the Wimpy Kid books. Author Jeff Kinney has penned a line of fictional journals based on the misadventures of a lazy, selfish, manipulative but ultimately very smart and self-aware seventh grader Greg Heffley.

The books are slightly subversive – with a somewhat healthy skepticism of authority and a subtle critique of the hypocritical and inconsistent nature of parental rules. But they’re really good – on the New York Times Best Seller list for children’s books for 18 weeks as of May 2009. And they’re laugh out loud funny with simple but effective illustrations and passages that bring me to tears. I find my son likes to re-read the sections that make me crack-up as we laugh together.

Just last week on Oct. 12, the fourth in the series was released Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days. Some parents might find the occasional PG language and attitude of the protagonist objectionable, but my feeling is that, in the end, our wimpy kid learns valuable life lessons that resonate meaningfully with the reader.

The first book, Diary of a Wimpy Kid came out in 2007, with the others coming out in early parts of 2008 (Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules) and 2009 (Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw). I’ve found that my son, along with other children, devour them quickly, sometimes in just one day – which is a testament to the skillful writing and story telling delivered by Kinney.

The story first started on FunBrain, but split it into a series when the author decided to publish it as a book. It’s been made public that the books are being made into a 20th Century Fox movie slated to be released in April 2010.

Click here to get the books at Amazon:Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days Diary of a Wimpy Kid Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw

Album of the Week: Music Has the Right to Children by Boards of Canada

I can’t really say that I discovered Boards of Canada’s first album Music Has the Right to Children(MHTRTC) more so than it discovered me. I remember clearly in Spring of 2000 coming back from lunch one day and finding the CD placed squarely on my desk at work. It was a small office – about 15 people yet apparently no one fessed-up. After the initial listen (with headphones – which I highly recommend), an entirely new world of music opened up. I had been familiar with electronic-based music but BofC’s approach (which I now know was/is rooted in work by Aphex Twin, Brian Eno and other pioneers in ambient compositions) was something that I had not heard before.

music-has-the-right-to-childrenThe mysterious cover with its washed out imagery of faceless parents and kids circa 1970s, gives more than a hint of the hazy and ominous yet sometimes eerily cheerful analog-synth tracks enclosed within. Released in 1998, the duo Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin from the Northern coast of Scotland had previously released several EPs, so they had developed a signature sound and style, and they took that sound to a new level creating what is considered a landmark recording spawning countless copycats and effectively establishing a sub-genre of ambient music.

For those of us older than say 4o or so, we can all remember watching film strips in class with the Pavlovian “dings” heard from the cassette or record that was playing in the background to signal forwarding the strip the to the next frame. The name “Boards of Canada” is inspired from those documentary films specifically from the National Film Board of Canada, which produced the educational filmstrips in the 60’s and 70’s. This music subtly conjures up, from our distant memories, those grainy images and fuzzy background music that serve as a backdrop for themes of childhood and nature and the tension between innocence and its loss as children inevitably experience the “real world”.

The album has a mix of short vignettes that melt into longer substantive pieces that range from dark brooding, almost creepy – “Eagle In Your Mind” to the trippy and somewhat medicated cheer of “Turquoise Hexagon Sun” or “Aquarius”. “Olson” is a brilliant short track that elicits specific imagery for me every time I hear it… I leave it to you to have your own experience.

An Eagle in Your Mind

Turquoise Hexagon Sun



The combination of hip-hop beats, analog and digital samples and keyboards creates a rich, evocative otherworldly soundscapes that I’ve not tired of listening to repeatedly for almost a decade.

When asked by my son what kind of music BofC had made on this album, I’ve described it as background music for a movie about the future that was made before we were born. This stops the questioning but doesn’t provide a real answer – which is the way it should be. Music this ethereal and magical shouldn’t be neatly categorized.

I love this album.

Click here to get it: Music Has the Right to Children

As a bonus… although not off of the album MHTRTC, this track “In a Beautiful Place in the Country” epitomizes everything about BoC that I cherish… haunting, beautiful and slightly disturbing – the one line of lyric in the song (which is rare in their music) is actually from a recorded interview with Amo Bishop Roden – the wife of a leader from the Branch Davidians (the cult founded by David Koresh whose camp was burned to the ground in the infamous FBI raid in Waco, TX) talking about their camp and inviting people to “come out to live in a religious community in a beautiful place in the country”. Lush, dreamy, weird. Beautiful.

In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country


Make it Happen by Making it Fun

If you ever needed a reminder of how to get little junior or the tiny princess to do something you want them to do (especially something that’s good for them) without any prodding or cajoling – just take a look at this:

It’s also refreshing to see adults break their daily patterns and routine behaviors to try something different and fun.

Keep an eye out for the elderly man (at around 1:23) who can barely walk – yet chooses the stairs  – why? – cuz it looks like fun!

The Red Balloon – Pre-Pixar Movie Magic

You know you’re watching something special when mom, dad, an eight year old boy and a three year old girl are all equally immersed and captivated by a 34 minute French movie with English subtitles that’s over a half a century old. Granted there’s only about five lines of dialogue in the movie (and amazingly still won the 1957 Academy Award for Best Screenplay – which really does prove that “less is more” once and for all) so there’s very little reading that is required. The Red Balloon, an almost wordless motion picture, is a fantasy piece by director Albert Lamorisse – who cast his son in the starring role as the little Parisian boy who finds a red balloon on his way to school and begins a magical, intimate and ultimately trusting friendship with the bright red shiny orb. Red_balloon

The movie has almost a living story book feel, with amazingly composed shots of the Ménilmontant neighborhood of Paris which apparently was razed in the late 1960’s. So the movie actually also serves as a recorded preserve of the Belleville area of the city which was a unique neighborhood of steep staircases, narrow passageways and cobblestone streets.

Typically “Friday Night Movie Night” is a boy’s event since little sister is usually in bed by 8pm but tonight was our first family movie night, and thanks to grandma Mama Mela – who spent weeks hunting down the movie – which was only recently released on DVD, we all got to experience a wonderful, touching, beautiful movie.

And the real magic IMO….is that there wasn’t one single computer graphic, blue screen shot, motion capture, 3D animation or technical special effect used. Nor was there a celebrity voice-over, merchandising tie-in or super cool soundtrack with hit singles from Black Eyed Peas or Hannah Montana – just a sweeping string-based score, a great, simple, compelling story, a balloon, a very very thin piece of thread and the opportunity for any and all of us to be connected by pure imagination.

Click here to get it on Amazon: The Red Balloon


The Cradle to College List

While driving home the other day, I listened to the classic Harry Chapin song “Cat’s in the Cradle” on the radio.

Cat’s in the Cradle

If you’re not familiar with the song it’s about a father who never finds the time to spend with his son and misses the boy’s entire childhood. For example, when the boy CB066201is 10 he asks his father  “…can you teach me to throw?” The father sings “… not today, I got a lot to do – he (the son) says that’s okay and walks away but his smile never dimmed said I’m gonna be like him…”

When the boy is older and home from college, the tables turn and it’s the father that is left longing to spend time with his boy. The last stanza – which is a killer – has the old man retired and lonely and wanting to see his son, who is now an adult but too busy with his own children and work and unable and unwilling  to make the time to see his father – “my boy was just like me…when are you coming home son – I don’t know when but we’ll get together then dad…”

I must have heard this song a million times before, but now, being a father, it’s a sock to the jaw. Although I think (and my wife attests) that I’m a pretty active and present father, the song left me almost heart-broken with the idea of missing opportunities to share great moments with my children… while they are still children.

So – similar to the “bucket list”, which is a list of stuff you really want to do before you die (i.e. “kick the bucket”), I figured, given how quickly our children grow and time passes, that making a “Cradle to College” list would help in ensuring that my children’s childhood doesn’t evaporate before my eyes and I’m left, sitting during their graduation, realizing my opportunity to share special big once in a lifetime moments with my kids has gone FOREVER.

I submit the following items as the beginning of my “Cradle to College” list (as of October 9, 2009):

  • Build a real tree house.
  • Climb a mountain – a 10,000 footer, and sit on the peak with my kids (and my wife).
  • Get them certified for scuba diving.
  • Take my kids to where I was born and where my mother is from – Lima, Peru and have them meet my extended family there.
  • Professionally record some songs with my children – in a studio, playing instruments and/or singing (it doesn’t matter whether they can sing or play).
  • Take my son and daughter to a political rally and have them understand why people are there.
  • Rent an RV motor home and go on an unplanned road trip.
  • See at least 50 of AFI’s Top 100 greatest movies of all time (before they graduate high school).
  • Develop in my children an understanding and appreciation for classical music and take them to at least one full season of the SF symphony and/or opera.
  • Have a several day stint in Manhattan, taking them to the museums, theater, restaurants and giving them a real taste of the magic of NYC.
  • Work side-by-side with them helping those less fortunate than ourselves – such as working the kitchen at Glide Memorial on a Sunday morning.
  • Go on several 2-3 day back country camping trips in the Sierra’s – sleep under the stars, catch & cook fish, teach them how to sling a bear bag, etc.
  • Make sure they’ve seen and know the Marx Brothers, Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Sid Caesar and make sure they can enjoy a movie made in black and white as much as one made with CGI in 3D.
  • Ensure they have a strong and well articulated opinion on who is a better drummer, Neil Pert, Keith Moon, John Bonham or Bill Bruford.mountain

This list will shrink and then grow as we check off and add items over time. And with a little luck and some effort and commitment – I, and hopefully you, will look back on the time we’ve had with our children and know that unlike the protagonist in the song, we didn’t miss the magic of our children’s lives.

Send your special C2C items and I’ll post ’em up for others to see – or below in the reply/comment field.