Tag Archives: childhood literacy

The Blarg No. 53: Gift Children Books

Saturday night, Janell and I had the great pleasure of seeing first The SunPunchers, and then the Howe Gelb Jazz trio at Valley Bar. The SunPunchers are a superb Americana band led by the sizeable songwriting talent and beautiful voice of Betsy Ganz, and featuring the talents of Mr. Jon Rauhouse—a veritable wizard of a musician. I’m not just praising The SunPunchers because they’re going to be on the show soon, that’s just an added bonus. I highly suggest you check them out—they are equally stunning on record and in person.

For a little while there, it looked like I was going to get a chance to talk to Howe Gelb for the podcast, but it didn’t happen. We were first emailing, then texting back and forth all the way up until the last text I received from him just prior to The SunPunchers set, which reads, “meyer fo.” I’m not sure what that means, I think it was supposed to be “maybe so” based on the conversation we were having, but somehow “meyer fo” is better. No big deal, I think I’ll get to talk to him some day, and it was pretty cool to have a text-versation with a musician whose work I admire deeply.

Howe’s set was fantastic. He and his band have a tight telepathic connection—they have to in order to keep up with the unpredictability of the show (he half-joked about midway through the set that he hasn’t had a setlist in over 35 years). Several references were made to his advancing age and the effects of jet lag, but during a break between piano sets, Howe broke out an acoustic guitar and proceeded to display some impressive, agile, nimble licks. His style as a guitarist is that rare, precious mixture of technical know-how and effortlessly emotional execution that punches you in the head and the heart all at once. The cherry on top was hearing the gorgeous, haunting vocals of Lonna Kelley float over the last few songs of the performance. Howe Gelb’s album Future Standards (which features Kelley heavily throughout) is a gem, and I highly recommend it.

On this week’s show, our 53rd, I talk to Nazlah Hassan, the founder of Gift Children Books, an organization with the mission of getting books in the hands of children from families with economic hardships who would otherwise be unable to afford them. The organization holds annual bookfairs in Harlem and Phoenix, and the Phoenix bookfair will take place on November 11th at Booker T. Washington Child Development Center. November 4th, in the same location from 9am to 5pm, Gift Children Books is holding a fundraising book sale where members of the public will have the opportunity to purchase from a selection of 1500 titles written by and about African Americans.

Best,
Jared

Listen to LE 53 – Gift Children Books

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The Blarg No. 51: Kids Need to Read

Let’s be perfectly frank here, folks, if you’re a rational, thoughtful, compassionate, pragmatic person, then these are enormously stressful times. We’re currently dealing with fascism, climate change denial, racism, bigotry, random social media tantrums, narcissism—all of which only scratches the surface, and that’s just one douchebag. We’re dealing with a whole hotbed of scary, scary shit right now. Every hateful worm in the United States feels emboldened by the current sociopolitical climate to slither their way out of whatever muck they’ve been hiding in to spew their vitriolic bile in the path of any progressive ideology and—

Where was I? Ah, yes, stress. There is no end of it, and this week’s blarg is about that. It’s really not healthy to be in such a constant state of agitation, but there seems no other state to be in when, as soon as you read a newspaper, turn on NPR, or even scroll through your Facebook and Twitter feeds, you get sucked right back into how awful everything is right now. And it’s not just awful, it’s unbelievably awful. How did we get to this point? Dark forces seem hellbent on driving us back into the dark ages as quickly as policy reversals, pardons, and executive orders will allow.

There are certain go-to things for me in times of stress. The healthiest and longest-lasting of these coping mechanisms is music. Playing guitar is a great way to take your mind off of a horrific future and ground you in the present, ground you in melody. It is for me anyway. Listening to music, though, is the primary de-stresser. It can’t be just anything, however, it’s got to be something I know, something I can sing along to, or connect with a time of peace, joy, familiar melancholy. This is typically not a time to listen to or discover anything new, because that process of discovery will be tainted by the climate in which it is discovered. Which is a shame, because there are albums I’ve been looking forward to. We were in Zia the other day, and I picked up the new offerings from Randy Newman, Nicole Atkins, Paul Kelly, Queens of the Stone Age, and I decided this is as good a time as any to try and wrap my head around Captain Beefheart, so I picked up Safe as Milk, but when we got back in the car, all I wanted to do was listen to Neil Finn. Last week, all I listened to was Squeeze. Also, I find I’ve been listening to a ton of Wilco, Springsteen, and Elvis Costello lately. These are like comfort foods for my ears. I’ll come at the new albums eventually, when I’m able to isolate them from their surroundings. Maybe that sounds like a bunch of mystical bullshit, but you can deal with things how you want, and I’ll do my thing.

This week’s show is the second in an ongoing series of conversations with non-profit arts and culture organizations based here in the valley. Kids Need to Read “works to create a culture of reading for children by providing inspiring books to underfunded schools, libraries, and literacy programs across the United States, especially those serving disadvantaged children.” Representing the organization in this conversation are Founder and Executive Director, Denise Gary and Operations Director, Lori Cothrun. Visit the Kids Need to Read website to learn even more about the organization and how you can support their mission.

Best,
Jared
Listen to LE 51 – Kids Need to Read

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The Blarg No. 49: Sophie Etchart of Read Better Be Better

It may come as a bit of a shock to some people, but there was a time…when I loved sports. (Leave pause for gasps or expressions of disbelief, and…) That’s right, as a child growing up in the 80’s in Southern California, we had no good football team, so it was 49ers all the way; basketball was a no-brainer due to the Lakers and them having one of the greatest teams of all time and whatnot; as for baseball, that was another easy choice: one need look no further than the Ang—I’m sorry, I can’t even finish that joke in the name of humor or narrative misdirection by saying the Angels. I was a Dodgers fan. When they won the World Series in October of 1988, I was just shy of six years old, and they had Orel Hershiser, whom I would argue has the most interesting name in baseball of all time.

I was more than just a casual fan, though, I was into the whole thing—I watched games on TV, listened to Vin Scully call them on the radio, I would grab the sports section out of the newspaper and read all the stats, I collected baseball cards. For a little while, I even wanted to be a professional baseball player. That phase didn’t last very long. I had asthma for one, and I’m probably actually more athletic now than I ever was as a kid for another.

It wasn’t long before I moved on to other passions—I think my interests in music, film, and literature took over and collectively shoved sports out of the way, but I still love going to see a baseball game. The other night, Janell and I got to go see the Cubs/Diamondbacks game, and I could feel the same level of excitement I had when I was five years old. There are just some things that take you right back—powerful enough to be an almost physical transformation. A baseball game, Back to the Future, Return of the Jedi, Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” an episode of The A-Team, and boom—it’s like I’m wearing acid-washed jeans all over again, three decades virtually fall away.

This week on the show, I talk to Sophie Etchart, founder of Read Better Be Better, an organization committed to improving reading proficiency in 3rd graders. It was an amazingly insightful conversation, and the way RBBB trains and empowers 8th graders to work with 3rd graders to improve their skills is one of the most moving stories I’ve ever heard. Listen to the show, and then go learn what you can do to support RBBB’s mission.

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