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September 16, 2010

Book Notes - Lane Smith ("It's a Book")

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

Tuesday I praised booksellers as valuable references for interesting books. I discovered Lane Smith's excellent children's book It's a Book through Twitter, one of the book lovers I follow (I can't remember who) praised the book, saying he loved it more than his children did.

It's a Book is being marketed to kids aged 6 to 10, but everyone can appreciate the story. A jackass with a laptop quizzes a monkey about the non-powered device he is reading. In an age of reading on phones, laptops and e-readers, this is a timely tale.

Cleverly told with an elegant economy of style, It's a Book works well as a graphic novel, a modern fairy tale for those of us who love books.

School Library Journal wrote of the book:

"A clever choice for readers, young and old, who love a good joke and admire the picture book's ability to embody in 32 stills the action of the cinema."

In his own words, here is Lane Smith's Book Notes music playlist for his children's book, It's a Book:

When I am illustrating a picture book I always play a mix of tunes that I have created especially for that book. For my book on the founding fathers, John, Paul, George and Ben (2006) for instance I listened to Early American folk songs, fife and drum tracks and contemporary tunes like Yankee Doodle Never Went to Town by Billie Holliday. It's funny that Largehearted Boy asked for a playlist for my new book, It's a Book. I think it's the first book I didn't make a mix for. I do remember listening to a lot of Tom Waits, Jimmie Driftwood and Neko Case. Not because those artists fit the mood of the book. I just like them. However had I made a mix for my children's book about a tech-savvy jackass and a traditional book-loving monkey it might sound something like this:

"In My Room" by Langley Schools Music Project

My book begins with two characters sitting on large overstuffed chairs in a sparse, minimally-designed room.

When I think of my own childhood I think of hours spent indoors with a book or sketchpad. Occasionally a friend might stop by to pester me or break my toys. I can't think of a more fitting evocation of childhood than this haunting version of the Brian Wilson song by the choir of the Langley School.

"Monkeyshines" by Twink

In It's a Book, one of the characters, a monkey, just wants to be left alone to read Treasure Island.

Who doesn't have a favorite monkey record? So hard to choose just one. Fortunately Twink, on the album The Broken Record, collaged together several monkey-themed kiddie 45s (complete with scratches and skips) reconfiguring them into this great mash up/remix.

Other great monkey songs:

"The Lonesome Ape" by Jimmie (Jimmy) Driftwood

"I Wanna Be like You" by Louis Prima

"Monkey on a String" by Charlie Poole

"Misery's the River of the World" by Tom Waits

"Burro" by Beck

The other character in the book is a jackass. He's on his laptop and forever needling the monkey with questions about his "traditional" book.

"Can it tweet?" asks the jackass.

"No, it's a book," says the monkey.

"Can it text?"

"No, it's a book."


"No, it's a book."

Of the various mixes Beck made of "Jack-Ass," I prefer "Burro," the mariachi version. I heard Beck recruited the players from a local Mexican restaurant. I hope that's true.

"A Little Less Conversation" by Elvis Presley vs. Junkie XL

The monkey wants peace and quiet. The donkey is relentless:

"Do you blog with it? How do you scroll? Need a password?"

The monkey answers, "No, it's a book." Perhaps he should have just put on this record.

This song never fails to get me out from behind my drawing desk for a little dance around the studio. I lower the shades first.

"I Can't Get Behind That" by William Shatner and Henry Rollins

Am I on Team Monkey or Team Jackass? Yes, I'm intrigued by all the new gadgets and e-reading devices but I have to admit I'm old school. Put me on Team Monkey and give me the traditional book. I just can't get behind a lot of so-called modern improvements.

Favorite bit in the Shatner/Rollins tune:

Shatner sings/talks: I can't get behind so-called singers that can't carry a tune, get paid for talking, how easy is that? [beat] Well, maybe I could get behind that.

Rollins: Well, I can't. If you have to fix it with a computer: quantized, pitch corrected, and overly inspected, then you can't do it, and I can't get behind that.

Then, inexplicably, Shatner yells: I. Can't. Get. Behind. A fat ass!

That Shatner's funny.

"We're Going To Be Friends" by The White Stripes

If I had to describe the visual style of the book I'd say it was definitely influenced by the De Stijl movement. I can't really keep a straight face when I put on those kinds of airs. It's true though: lots of geometric forms and primary colors. On the wall in many of the illustrations you'll see my attempt at a faux Mondrian.

Though not from their album, De Stijl (it's from White Blood Cells), "We're Going To Be Friends" is a perfect theme song for Monkey and Jackass's friendship: School bells, reading, walking, climbing, side-by-side in every class.

I like the arrangement too. Acoustic guitar, one foot tapping. Kid friendly.

"Brown Eyes" by Bill Frisell

I subscribe to the less-is-more, Buster Keaton school of comedy. Deadpan. The characters in It's a Book are fairly stonefaced. In homage, the monkey wears Keaton's porkpie hat. Years ago I saw Bill Frisell perform live to Buster's silent classic Go West. I liked that his music didn't detract from the poetry and grace of Keaton's movements.

"Asleep in the Deep" by Thurl Ravenscroft

At one point the techie donkey snatches Treasure Island away from monkey. Donkey reads a long passage then declares, "Too many words." He "fixes" it by reducing the page to tweet characters and emoticons.

I collect sea shantey records. I also didn't have a girlfriend until I was in my mid twenties but that's another story. Some of my favorite shanties (or ‘chanteys' to really cool people in the know) were sung by Thurl Ravenscroft. He was the talking/roaring voice of Tony the Tiger and the singing voice of the Grinch from the Chuck Jones classic but for my money, you can't beat his work on the flipside of the LP The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Soundtrack of the Fabulous Adventure. Side A was the audio track of the 1960s Disneyland attraction but side B featured pirate tunes sung in Ravenscroft's deep, deep, deep bass voice. When he hits the low notes in "Asleep in the Deep" my speakers shake.

"Monkey Wash, Donkey Rinse" by Warren Zevon

Okay, maybe the tone of Zevon's debutante ball-in-hell epic, "Monkey Wash, Donkey Rinse," is a little dark for my ages 6 to 10 book, but I love Zevon and it's the only song I have in my collection with both a donkey and a monkey in the title.

"I'm Leavin' Now" by Johnny Cash & Merle Haggard

When the donkey becomes engrossed in Treasure Island and refuses to return it to his pal the monkey, he leaves for the library.

I picked this tune because I love Cash and The Hag but I could just as easily have gone with "Blabber n' Smoke" by Captain Beefheart (why don't you quit actin like a dope? All you ever do is Blabber n' smoke) or maybe "Bigmouth Strikes Again" by The Smiths, or "You Run Your Mouth, I'll Run My Business" by Fats Waller.

"It Doesn't Hurt a Bit to Be Polite" by Tex Ritter

Just as Monkey gets to the door Donkey holds up Treasure Island and says, "Don't worry, I'll charge it up when I'm done!"

A little mouse (who we were introduced to earlier in the book) answers, "You don't have to, it's a book, Jackass."

Now, that's not very nice.

But the mouse is young and innocent and probably doesn't know what he's saying. Still, it wouldn't hurt that little rodent to give Tex a spin. Sandwiched in between cowboy ballads like "Blood on the Saddle" and "High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me)," one can find a treasure trove of hilarious instructional kiddie records by the B movie cowboy.

"Carnival of the Animals: Wild Jackasses" by Saint-Saëns

For my final pick I might go with this selection from Carnival of the Animals. Actually my favorite track is the eerie and mesmerizing "Aquarium" but there are no fish in my book.

Lane Smith and It's a Book links:

the author's website
the author's blog
the author's collaborative blog
video trailer for the book

Book Sake review
The Fiction Enthusiast review
GeekDad review
TheHappyNappyBookseller review
The Little Bookworm review
Miami Herald review
Montreal Gazette review
MotherReader review
New York Post review
School Library Journal review
Techland review
Washington Post review

Curious Pages interview with the author
Shelf Awareness interview with the author
Speakeasy 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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