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December 21, 2007

Book Notes - Maya Waldman ("to-do list")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.

Sometimes a book can bridge the generation gap. The other day a friend visited with her eight year-old daughter, and we sat and read Maya Waldman's children's book to-do list together. The book lists twenty things to do, from the simple "eat sweets" to the incredibly fun "dance like an octopus and tastily ridiculous "talk pineapple," and we laughed through each example as we stretched our creative energies at the same time. to-do list is elegant with its simple writing and expressive yet understated illustrations, and would make a great gift for children of all ages.

In her own words, here is Maya Waldman's Book Notes essay for her children's book, to-do list:

A list of my favorite things would include lists and creating lists. Having a list makes things feel like they are nice, tiny, clean, and uncomplicated. Most of the illustrations in this book were made while I was in a lonely and remote place- a tiny 1 square-mile island in the Ailinglaplap atoll in the Marshall Islands. At first, everything was new and complicated, my Marshallese was atrocious, students were more interested in me than lessons, the lagoon was difficult to accept as a bathroom, and I worried about swimming in it after hog guts were used to lure sharks. It was easy to imagine things to do, and I was inspired by my surroundings- the swaying palms with their falling coconuts, weird treasures with every high tide, and going forever barefoot. But after a while, my days bled together and I found that few things changed- certainly not food, the weather, 200 people in my town, or my schedule. Even though I did not have electricity, I had rare and special use of an iPod: charged a few precious times during the year with one neighbor's generator, another's inverter, and luck that brought $7/gal gas to the island by steamer.

These songs were on my mind and in my head during those days, and some still are. There is no getting to the place of the book without being back in the Islands. Late nights and stormy days I worked by kerosene lantern in my 64 square foot pandanus house, and on sick days I had the sun. Each item on my to-do list is paired with a hand drawn number, which were just as influenced by my surroundings and the rare treat of music.

1. "This Year" by The Mountain Goats

There is a beautiful, hopeful, reaching message in this song, and it never fails me. I love the melody. Sometimes I get this life-affirming feeling or jolt that I am not really successful at sharing. That is kind of what I was hoping to do with this book, but I'll be happy if I'm a little bit as successful as this song is. In the hard days, after a couple weeks of canned tuna and white rice, I'd sing to myself... "I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me". Now, I remember that I did.

2. "Somebody, Oh Mouchay" from West Indies: An Island Carnival

Listening to old Caribbean music collected by anthropologists makes me feel immersed in something new, like a child figuring out the signs and signals around me. In some ways, To-Do List was about this for me, as I wanted to capture some of the most fun, but still simple things we can do- with and for others, but ultimately to enrich our own lives.

3. "Love of the Loveless" by The Eels

I liked walking down the beach and singing this song to the waves.

4. "Passing By" by Ulrich Schnauss

Electronic music doesn't usually intrigue me, but this track does. It is the perfect music for making tiny lines into something big- the soft swoop up, the descent...

5. "Ain't Got No/I Got Life" (Live) by Nina Simone

Everyone loves Nina, and for me, this is her best. Like some of the other songs in this playlist, it does what I most wish the book, and me I guess, could do: focus, wish, bring a smile and find success in whatever there is.

6. "Papa Was A Rodeo" by The Magnetic Fields

The last item in to-do list, number twenty, is "Say I Love You More" and what follows on the next page is a postscript: "A lot more. Like, really, really! Saying it feels as good as hearing it." This song to me is at once common and uncommon. It makes me want to find that person to say you-know-what to as much as I can.

Maya Waldman and to-do list links:

the author's website
the book's website
the book's page at the publisher
the publisher

the author's notebook illustrations

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
directors discuss their film's soundtracks
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)


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