Kids, Books, and Rock & Roll

After reading my last post, a friend wrote to ask if I thought the Cure song "Charlotte Sometimes" might be based on the book. I have to admit that, not being a Cure listener, I'd never heard of the song until recently, when I started hunting down links for the last post, at which point I found, to my amazement, that the author of the BOOK Charlotte Sometimes, Penelope Farmer, has a blog, and she wrote here and here about discovering the song and eventually being invited to a Cure concert and meeting the Cure's Robert Smith, who sweetly brought out a battered old VERY GIRLY copy of the book, told her how much he'd loved it as a kid, and asked her to sign it. Awww!

The raucous world of rock & roll and the seemingly demure one of children's books might not appear to have much in common, but they coincide more often than you'd think. Lots of kids' book authors have rock & roll souls: Sammy Keyes author Wendelin Van Draanen lists as her hobbies “reading, running, and rock & roll”, and Lemony Snicket, perpetrator of the Series of Unfortunate Events, has been known to collaborate with Stephen Meritt of the band The Magnetic Fields.

And then there are all the young adult novels that take popular music-- rock, rap, punk--as their subject, or at least their setting, with protagonists who want to get into the business, or parents who are or were rock stars, and some characters who just love the music so much that it's a vital part of who they are and what the book's about. Here are a few in that genre that are great for the music-loving teen—or for the teen inside you:

Audrey breaks up with her boyfriend because he pays more attention to his band than to her. Then he writes a song about her that propels him into the big time, and Audrey, unwillingly, along with him. Having been bombarded by “Hey There Delilah” a couple summers ago, along with the rest of the Western world, and read a bit about the real Delilah, I couldn’t resist picking up this book, and I was glad I did.

You know how “High School Musical” is about being true to yourself, really truly true to yourself, and not caring if you look foolish or you might fail or no one else thinks what you’re doing is cool? Fat Kid is about that, too. Only instead of being cute and sweet, it cuts deep into the dorky, fat, sweaty heart of what that means, and how doing that is the only thing that can save you and is not incidentally the real meaning of punk. Truly awesome.

I wrote about this one a few weeks ago but am tossing it in here again because it captures perfectly  how much music can mean to you when you’re in high school—how a band, or a singer, can seem like something magical that reaches right into your soul and defines it. Also because it put the ineffable “Sunday Girl” into my head on repeat for days.

  • Beige, by Cecil Castelucci

There’s a distinct sub-genre of young-adult novels lately that takes on the topic of dissipated (fictional) rock stars’ legacies—not to musical history, but to their own kids. In Beige, neat, competent, organized Katy is dropped, protesting mightily, into the midst of the L.A. punk scene for the summer to visit her punk-star dad, The Rat, drummer for the band Suck. It’s not surprising that Katy learns some lessons, makes some friends, and changes over the summer, but the way it happens is what draws you in. Witty and kind, and educational into the bargain—Castelluci heads each chapter with real punk song titles, a musical history unto themselves.

On the third anniversary of his rock-star mother’s dreath from a drug overdose, 15-year-old Grady is invited back to Seattle to appear at a concert in her honor. Grady’s been living with his grandmother, far from the limelight, but she’s about to get married and he has choices ahead of him. Some time with his stepdad in Seattle and his mentally disabled half-brother help him sort things out. Another kid-of-a-rock-star book, with a thoughtful hero facing his past and the multiple meanings of love.

Once I started noticing the rock-stars-kids’ motif, I couldn’t stop looking for it. A couple days ago I picked up this example from the library. I’m only partway through it, but already it’s looking pretty good. Our hero and narrator, Leo Carraway, starts out as an uptight Young Republican fighting against the internal anarchist urges that he’s sure come from his punk-star biological father. But you can tell from the start of the book that he’s going to succumb pretty soon. I can’t wait.

Finally, even though it’s a picture book for the 3-to-8 set and not a novel for teens, I can’t resist mentioning Punk Farm, by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. Tired of the same old, same old “Old McDonald Had a Farm”? Try reading this one aloud and screeching, rocking, and banging along with the punkest menagerie ever. No wonder the animals are so sleepy in the morning…perfect for the Headbangers’ Storytime.

Rock on! Good night Scholastic!

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Thanks for the Penelope Farmer story!

Another good recent book for your list is Lemonade Mouth by Mark Peter Hughes. Lemonade Mouth is the name of a band some fringe type high school kids put together.

Cool-- thanks! I've heard of that book. Going to work this very afternoon, so I'll see if my library has it.

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