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August 20, 2010

Book Notes - Kurtis Scaletta ("Mamba Point")

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

Kurtis Scaletta second book, Mamba Point, is another impressive children's novel. Scaletta perfectly captures 12 year old Linus's voice as the boy adapts to life in Liberia (after moving from Ohio) and searches for his own identity.

The Washington Post wrote of the book:

"Funny, adventuresome and at times serious, the story is about a boy trying to figure out who he is and where he belongs."

In his own words, here is Kurtis Scaletta's Book Notes music playlist for his graphic novel, Mamba Point:

1. "Africa" (Toto)

It's kind of hard to leave off a song about the continent where this book takes place that charted the same year it takes place.... even if it is, you know, by Toto. And there's the lyric, "Gonna take a lot to keep me away from you..." which would be humorous to hear on the soundtrack as it shows Linus being chased around by a mamba. The truth is that I do like this song and have strong associations with it. I'll just start there and move along.

2. "Come On, Eileen" (Dexys Midnight Runners)

Linus has a minor crush on a slightly older girl named Eileen, but his efforts to impress her don't exactly work. That character's name was inspired by the 1982 one-hit-wonder Dexys Midnight Runners' "Come on Eileen." Too-Rye-Aye! Whatever that means.

3. "You Can Get It If You Really Want" (Jimmy Cliff)

Jimmy Cliff was really big in Liberia when I lived there, and I've come to love his music. There are several Cliff songs described in the book. Usually Linus just overhears a lyric -- he doesn't know enough about reggae to know the artist or the story behind the song. This one inspires him when he's trying to be a bolder, even reckless Linus. "You can get it if you really want, but you must try, try and try."

4. "Many Rivers to Cross" (Jimmy Cliff)

This is Cliff's signature song and, although it is secular lyrically, it sounds like a spiritual. It's an uplifting song for dark moments. I can't remember exactly where Linus hears it, but the song echoes the more upbeat Desmond Dekker cover. They're both about overcoming hard times. Moving is hard, especially on kids. Linus experiences a lot of growing pains and culture shock.

5. "No Women, No Cry" (Jimmy Cliff)

The most explicit reference to Cliff actually relies on a song better known as a Bob Marley tune. The lyric captured the mood of the book too well not to use it. "Good friends we had then, good friends we have lost, along the way." Linus, like me, leaves his friends to move across the world and slowly makes new friends. I played the song about a dozen times in a row when I wrote the scene in which it appears and made myself really sentimental.

6. "Whole Lotta Love" (Led Zeppelin)

Linus's older brother is learning to play guitar in one scene, and practicing this one -- which is actually really easy to play, or at least fake, and among the first for many beginning guitarists. I had a scene where Law (the brother) sang new lyrics ("whole lotta snakes!"), but decided it was silly and way too suggestive ("You been wriggling babe," etc.) and cut the whole scene.

7. "Run to the Hills" (Iron Maiden)

In another scene he's reading the guitar tab to the Iron Maiden song "Run to the Hills," from that year. It would be way beyond his ability to play. I liked having this song obliquely mentioned in a book that takes place in what is, for all practical purposes, a former U.S. colony.

I recently talked to a kid who read the book. He was 10 or 11 years old and told me he liked the Iron Maiden scene. I was impressed that kids still listen to Maiden! There's hope for us all.

8. "Reggae Night" (Jimmy Cliff)

The book takes place in 1982, and this song is from 1983... so it did not get a mention in the book, but is definitely the song I most associate with Liberia. There was one summer when it seemed to blast from every radio in endless repetition. Now I get choked up every time I hear it.

Kurtis Scaletta and Mamba Point links:

the author's website review
Kirkus Reviews review
Middle Grade Ninja review
Minneapolis Star Tribune review
The O.W.L. review
Shelby Grossman's Blog review
Washington Post review interview with the author
From the Mixed-Up Files interview with the author
James Preller interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Mudville
Minnesota Reads interview with the author
Minnesota Reads interview with the author
The Write Game interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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